Life Connected

Local Biologist Brings Environmental Literacy to Children

miguel ordenana natural history museum manager
Miguel Ordeñana

The Los Angeles Natural History Museum holds field trips around the region, showing kids where to find exotic creatures in their own backyards. The museum is also home to Miguel Ordeñana and Michelle Race, scientists and managers of community science at them museum.

Ordeñana remembers his childhood visit to the museum vividly.

"I was here with my mom, giving her a headache," Ordeñana said.

Ordeñana remembers exploring the dark but fascinating exhibits of LA's natural history museum when he was 5 years old. Running around, like all the other kids, in the African mammal hall.

"They're not alive, but it's real. All the things you see around here are real," Ordeñana said his mother used to tell him. "This was enough to get my mind working."

It was, in his own words, his "Oh, wow" moment.  The seeds of his future as a wildlife biologist had been planted. He would grow up to bring his passion to hundreds of kids visiting the museum 32 years later.

The Ordeñanas lived in a big apartment complex in Los Feliz.

"I grew up south of the park, at a big intersection," Ordeñana said.

Years later, just blocks away, Miguel would make a name for himself. He and another scientist were working for the United States Forest Service. They had placed cameras on trees around the park, looking for animals living in complete biological isolation because of the dangerous freeways on all sides. They searched for deer, raccoons, and other similar animals, and they were soon rewarded for their efforts.

"Just a month later, a mountain lion walks in front of one of our cameras," Ordeñana said. "It was a revelation, like seeing Big Foot or La Chupacabra for the very first time!"

A young male mountain lion known as P-22 had defied the odds, crossing freeways to live in Griffith Park alone. His existence cemented Ordeñana's life passion: Telling the world about wildlife in the big city, even where you least expect it.

"You have to believe in yourself sometimes," said Ordeñana.

There are hundreds of children who visit the museum's community science wing every year.

The wing's mission is to dispel a common misconception.

"When you live in a city, it's easy to believe everything is concrete, and that nothing 'exists' here," Race said.

Ordeñana's field work has proven successful in helping extend research and disprove misconceptions. He's hanging hidden cameras on trees, collecting data with a contraption on a pole. With that hardware and his know-how, he's actually finding bats in LA. Ordeñana has already documented 12 different kinds.

"Nature also exists in your backyard, or in a planter that's next to you," Race said.

Added Ordeñana: "My mission is to really cultivate that next generation."

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