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Zoo Speaking Out for L.A.'s Urban Wildlife

A conference promotes coexistence between humans and animals. The deaths of thousands of creatures a year are blamed on intolerance.

May 18, 2003|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Foraging in alleyways, scurrying out of storm drains, nesting under eaves and sleeping in every conceivable building nook and household cranny, wild creatures are part of every city's ecosystem.

To promote greater awareness of and respect for the untamed birds and beasts in our midst, the Los Angeles Zoo hosted a conference Saturday on living in harmony with urban wildlife.

Keynote speaker John Hadidian, director of the Urban Wildlife Program for the Humane Society of the United States, told the 40 adults and some children at the event that even the densest urban environments contain some wildlife. But all too often, city dwellers -- the human kind, that is -- view their furry neighbors as unwelcome intruders and discriminate against them because of prejudice or ignorance, he said.

Hundreds of thousands of wild animals are intentionally killed each year in Los Angeles by intolerant humans, Hadidian estimated. He urged people to leave urban wildlife alone, or relocate the animals.

Hadidian's presentation was accompanied by a slide show that included pictures of a raccoon poking its snout out of a chimney, a starling nesting in a carwash, and baby opossums frolicking on their mama in a yard.

It then showed a scruffy dog, prompting the audience of educators, environmental activists and animal lovers to coo in unison. The popular canine was followed by a beady-eyed, pointy-eared bat with a cavernous mouth. A few in the audience reacted with disgust. Hadidian said bats are helpful to humans because they eat insects and rodents.

As he showed a slide of skunks, Hadidian called them "classy animals with good dispositions."

Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas said people need to be inclusive of everyone -- regardless of the color of one's skin, or whether one has feathers or fur. "With all due respect, [the wild animals] were here before we got here," said Cardenas, who was accompanied by three of his children.

Some children spoke about the need for better education on nature and conservation.

"A lot of my peers don't understand about wildlife," said Ellery Wood, a 10th-grader who lives in West Hills. "Like the Chatsworth Reservoir -- a lot of people want to make it into golf courses or a soccer field."

Sponsors for the event included the Canada Goose Project, Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, Southwestern Herpetologists Society, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and California Department of Fish and Game.

"We must teach our children to respect all life," said event organizer Rosemarie White, chairwoman of the local Sierra Club's Endangered Species Task Force. "And this is the first step."

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