How a Visit to an LA County Museum Inspired a Future Biologist – NBC Los Angeles

on Mar2
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Miguel Ordeñana remembers the day vividly.

He was 5 years old, exploring the dark but fascinating
exhibits of the Los Angeles County National History

“I was [there] with my mom, giving her a headache,” he recalled.

Like other kids, he found himself running around the Hall of
African Mammals, where exhibits of gorillas, ostriches and elephants were
displayed in the constructed habitats. Then, Ordeñana’s mother said something
that would set him on the path to his career.

“‘They’re not alive, but it’s real. All these things that
you see here are real,” he said. “That was enough to get my mind working.”

The seeds of Ordeñana’s future as a wildlife biologist had
been planted. He would grow up to bring his passion to hundreds of children
visiting the museum today – 32 years later – working as a community science

Ordeñana’s family lived in a large apartment complex in Los
Feliz, south of Griffith Park. Just blocks away, he would make a name for
himself while working for the United States Forest Service. He and another
scientist placed cameras on trees around the famed park, looking for species
living there in complete biological isolation because of the dangerous freeways
on all sides. They expected to find deer, raccoons and the like.

And then, just a month after they began the project, a mountain
lion walked in front of one of the cameras.

“It was a revelation,” Ordeñana said. “Like seeing Bigfoot
or La Chupacabra for the very first time.”

A young male puma the team named “P-22” had defied the odds,
crossing freeways to live in Griffith Park alone. His very existence cemented Ordeñana’s
“life passion,” telling the world about wildlife in big cities – where it’s least

“You got to believe in yourself sometimes,” Ordeñana said.

It’s something he said he tells the kids who visit the
museums “community science” wing. Its mission, according to manager Michelle
Race, 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,” she said.

Ordeñana’s field work, according to Race, defies that
belief. He and his cameras are finding bats in LA – he’s already documented 12 different

“Nature also exists in your backyard, or in a planter that’s
next to you,” Race said.

Race believes discovering nature at home connects children to
their communities like nothing else can. It’s an experience Ordeñana had as a
young boy and now pays forward with his colleagues by taking kids on scientific
field trips, showing them wonders beneath their feet and at their fingertips.

“My mission is to really cultivate that next generation,” he

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