by Donna Apidone
You don’t see a lot of wildcats around northern Ohio, but they have an impact on our surroundings.
Pumas and their connection to our environment are a major component in Tiffany Yap’s work. Her new young adult graphic novel, “Tales of the Urban Wild: A Puma’s Story,” gives us a look at what a young cougar faces in the first few years of life.
Big cats are almost extinct in some parts of the eastern US, while they continue to roam in the West.
“They are a widespread animal throughout the Americas,” Yap said. “At the same time, they are really elusive. You might be living in puma habitat and not even know because they are so secretive.”
Yap, 43, who grew up in Brecksville, was always interested in wildlife.
“I don’t think I recognized it at the time, but I was very lucky to be so close to the Metroparks,” she said. “I took it for granted.”
Yap left Ohio to study integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from UCLA. She now works as a senior scientist and wildlife connectivity advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. Her work informs legislation related to the California Endangered Species Act.
Puma is a genus in the Felidae family of animals that includes cougars, mountain lions and panthers.
“They are the cat with a thousand names,” Yap said. “Pumas go by many different names in many different places and many different cultures.”
At the center of Yap’s book is a young puma cub in southern California. We read about family life, a mother’s lessons to her young ones and how cubs eventually search for their own territory.
The cub is caught by scientists, collared and named C-8. Through tracking, the conservation team discovers when and where the young puma travels, where he finds food, and clues about his interactions with other cougars. When he is poisoned by consuming rodenticide, the scientists locate him and provide medical treatment. The team is committed to saving individual animals for the benefit of all species.
“It was really important to me in this story to highlight people as well as wildlife because we’re all part of the landscape. We’re all intertwined.”
Another puma in Yap’s story gets too close to a wildfire. As they escape flames, animals might cross roadways or run through hot ashes. Those with injured paws, if saved by conservationists, may be eligible for a relatively new burn treatment involving a graft of tilapia skin.
The story extends beyond the puma’s experience. Yap’s expertise is in the connection between species. Through C-8, she explains how the health of a wildcat community affects all creatures in the region, from large animals of prey – deer and farm animals are high on the list – to amphibians, birds and insects. The book also tells how homeowners and farmers can protect their pets and herds from pumas. It also shows how certain styles of fencing intended to deter predators can instead maim or kill an intruding animal.
As a conservation scientist, Yap offers recommendations for preventing extinction of pumas in suburban areas. An option that is growing in popularity is the wildlife crossing, bypassing a highway as a bridge or underpass designed for animals. Wildlife crossings are already in place in the US, Canada, Australia, Israel and several European countries.
Construction of a new overpass in southern California came after two decades of research into animal migration habits in that region.
“They identified the best area to put a wildlife overcrossing for the biggest positive impact for wildlife.”
“Tales of the Urban Wild: A Puma’s Story emphasizes the work of environmental scientists, like Yap, in protecting wildlife. Their research benefits future generations of pumas and other animals.
Meital Smith provided art for the book in sepia tones and shades of yellow, minimizing drawings that depict details of the life cycle.
In addition to the story of C-8, Yap’s book includes valuable tips, statistics, and resources on wildlife conservation. It is available on Amazon.
Tiffany Yap is happy to share her love of wildlife.
“My hope is to nurture a connection or reconnection with Nature.” ∞
Photo (above): Tiffany Yap’s new young adult graphic novel gives readers a glimpse at the journey young cougars face in their first years of life.