An eco-bridge built over a highway in Los Angeles: it is intended to improve the life of local wildlife

An eco-bridge built over a highway in Los Angeles: it is intended to improve the life of local wildlife

On the heights of Los Angeles, pumas survive as best they can in the mountains of the megacity, in an area enclosed by highways. Gilles CLARENNE/AFPTV/Johanna Turner/San Diego Humane Society/AFP

Cinema stars are not the only ones to live far from view, on the heights of Los Angeles: pumas survive as best they can in the mountains of the megacity, in an area enclosed by highways.

One of them even overshadowed the elite of show business for years. Named P-22, this cougar managed to cross two gigantic expressways, before taking up residence in the urban jungle of Griffith Park and being photographed under the giant Hollywood sign.

Honored as a hero upon his death, the aging animal had to be euthanized in December 2022, due to several long-term health problems, but also injuries caused by a collision with a car.

But his fate has served as an electroshock to help fund a massive eco-bridge over a highway that will improve the lives of local wildlife.

Pumas are one of many species threatened by urban development,” Andy Blue of the San Diego Humane Society's Ramona Wildlife Center told AFP. “They've been here forever, and now we're building more and more homes and facilities on their property.”

To give them back their freedom of movement, Los Angeles is set to build one of the world's largest urban animal corridors. A sort of huge pedestrian crossing for wildlife, about 60 meters long, covered in vegetation, that will span the 10 lanes of Highway 101, where 300,000 vehicles pass each day.

Difficult reproduction

When this concrete river was built about sixty years ago, it "had the unintended consequence of splitting the entire Santa Monica Mountains", recalls Lauren Gill, one of the California representatives of the National Wildlife Federation.

Enough to create "an island-shaped ecosystem, cut off from the entire wild area to the north". The southward crossing of P-22 thus condemned him to an existence in a gilded cage, synonymous with forced celibacy. No female has ever been able to join him at Griffith Park.

Urbanization has dramatically reduced the territory mountain lions need to hunt and breed, Gill said. Beyond cougars, the new eco-bridge – scheduled to open in 2025 and part of a project estimated to cost $80 million in total – will benefit many other animals in the region.

Among them, birds like the brown cama. A local species composed of specimens "so small that the wind currents generated by the highway prevent them from crossing", explains Ms. Gill.

Collisions "every week"

Between collisions with cars, the use of rat poison, and the increased frequency of fires caused by climate change, animals are suffering the consequences of actions humans in California.

When the Ramona Wildlife Center receives mountain lions for care, it is most of the time for reasons related to "conflicts between the&# 39;man and wildlife", continues Mr. Blue.

"One to two mountain lions are hit by cars every week in California, and this is the number one reason why mountain lions die in California. #39;State", he recalls.

A cougar treated by its center after being hit by a vehicle has just been released at the end of June in the mountains of the Los Angeles area. Raising awareness among city dwellers about coexistence with the species is therefore essential for him.

"We don't need much to make their lives easier", agrees Johanna Turner, a photographer who places self-triggering cameras in nature to capture the region's wildlife.

In the United States, California is renowned for its biodiversity, among the richest in the country. In Los Angeles, it is sometimes possible to come across a coyote in the middle of the street.

"I just want people to know how lucky they are to have this wilderness," says Ms. Turner. "And that it can disappear. This can end very quickly."

For the artist, the legacy left by P-22 shows that there is no inevitability. By creating the emotion necessary for the construction of the corridor, the puma showed that coexistence "is possible".

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