Although it is easy to spot many different plants growing along Pilkington Creek in Santa Cruz, California, it’s harder to spot animals, especially large ones. When the native Awaswas* native people lived here, there were many large game animals in the area, such as black bears, grizzly bears, black tail deer, tule elk, and pronghorn antelope.
Awaswas hunters disguised themselves in deer skin and creep within 20 feet of the shy creatures, swiftly felling the deer with a bow and arrow. Deer provided more than just meat. The Awaswas used every part of the animal to make tools such as antler wedges, bone awls, and scapular saws. The hide was used for moccasins and other clothing.
Coyotes and Mountain Lions Still Prowl Santa Cruz
Mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes also lived in Awaswas times and still roam this area today. Sightings of these animals are rare at Pilkington Creek, but bobcats and coyotes use the nearby Arana Gulch greenbelt behind the Santa Cruz Harbor. Mountain lions (also known as cougars or pumas) are common in Wilder Ranch and on the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) campus and have occasionally been spotted in downtown and westside neighborhoods.
These larger predators are forced to look for food and water closer and closer to civilization as their habitat is developed by humans. The large expanses of forest that once covered Santa Cruz County have been fragmented into smaller and smaller pieces, divided by roads and neighborhoods where these predators can potentially cause harm to domestic animals and people.
Most of the undeveloped land is composed of state parks, agricultural land, and greenbelts within city limits. All of this habitat is heavily used by people, and we are not as accustomed to sharing the land with wildlife as the Awaswas people were.
The Most Common Visitors to Pilkington Creek
If you visit the creek today, you might see smaller animals using the creek and surrounding habitat, including raccoons, opossums, and squirrels. Stellar’s Jays, European starlings, and California towhees sweep the surrounding park for insects, seeds, and remains of recent family picnics. The Santa Cruz Natural History Museum’s native plant garden attracts native insects that, in turn, attract native birds to the creek. Hopefully, more animals will use Pilkington Creek in the future with ongoing stewardship of the land.
*The native peoples of the Santa Cruz area of California refer to the region as Cotoni and call themselves the Awaswas. Most folks think of them as the “Ohlone” people, but this is a misnomer and not how they identify themselves. Today, the descendants of the area’s indigenous forebears, who were “missionized” at Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista, are organized as the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. The Cotoni-Awaswas nourished themselves from the sea and tidal zone and harvested, gathered, and hunted game from the coastal uplands. Although not “agricultural” as we tend to think of that term, California natives thrived by actively managing the environment for productivity.
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- California Indians. The Ohlone Peoples: Botanical, Animal, and Mineral Resources, by Susan Labiste. Primitive Ways website, 2013. Accessed January 2016.
- Basic Facts about Grizzly Bears. Defenders of Wildlife website. Accessed January 2016.
- Grizzly Bear. Bear Life website. Accessed January 2016.
- Puma Research. Santa Cruz Pumas website. Accessed January 2016.
- Highway 17 Wildlife Crossing. Land Trust of Santa Cruz County website. Accessed January 2016.