I started work at the La Brea Tar Pits a few weeks ago and it's incredible. Among many projects, the opportunity to design a graphic for The Legendary Cats of Los Angeles symposium presented itself in a hurry. It's not uncommon to have a quick turn-around on projects, so selecting a style that meets your client's needs and can be done quickly is crucial. Throw in a rapid attempt at paleo-reconstruction and a scale bar and ta-da! A cat-alogue illustration on the extinct and living big cats that roamed Los Angeles. The first four (left to right) of the above cats went extinct during the end of the Pleistocene (about 10,000 years ago), leaving only the mountain lion (Puma concolor) extant today. Why just the California cougar?
During her portion of the symposium, Dr. Emily Lindsey, Assistant Curator at the La Brea Tar Pits, posited that the disappearance of the giant cats might be attributed to their specialized morphology (shape/structure). With larger body size and unique dentition, maybe they focused on large prey that were sensitive to changing climate/human hunting, so when the prey disappeared, so did the cats. Mountain lions have a smaller body size, less specific dentition, and a more flexible diet, perhaps allowing them to survive in a changing ecosystem when others could not.
To learn more, visit the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to see Extreme Mammals! and the P-22 mini-exhibit, which address the extinction and survival of these cool critters, and of course, pop over to the world famous La Brea Tar Pits & Museum to see the magnificent fossil remains of some of these ice-age animals.
Many thanks to Laura Tewksbury, La Brea excavator, for posing for scale.