Alexa has been instrumental to the success of The Secret Lives of Mountain Lions, and we wanted to ask her a few questions about her participation and see how her experience has been. We hope you enjoy hearing from Alexa about what it has been like working on a project with the potential to affect large-scale environmental decisions.
What attracted you to this project?
I was so excited at the opportunity to work on this project! It combines my passion for wildlife, education and the Spanish language.
I have always loved wildlife. I grew up in and out of the garden, playing with insects. In my teens I monitored rocky intertidal pools and started working for wildlife hospitals, bringing home orphaned wildlife to be hand-raised until they were old enough to be released. In college I studied biology, neuroscience and behavior and dedicated my time outside of school to wildlife medicine. With this experience, I considered myself not only a wildlife advocate, but somewhat of an expert.
When I first saw this footage, I was surprised. The cougars in this footage completely shifted my perspective on the species, forcing me to reconsider so much of what I thought I knew about the species. I believe that this footage has the power to do the same for many more, and this is so important for the conservation of these animals. When our perspectives shift, and we begin to cultivate compassion for mountain lions, ceasing to see them as solitary and only aggressive creatures, we are so much more likely to create space and habitat for them. Like many species, mountain lions biggest threat to survival is human activity. Between developing natural habitats, and trophy hunting, we are pushing mountain lions into smaller and smaller pockets of their range. In order to change this trend, we need to change the way we relate to mountain lions, and the narratives we have created about them. In shifting our perspectives towards mountain lions and other species, cultivating compassion for them and creating space, I believe we also recognize the humanity within ourselves.
What did you contribute to this film?
In order to make La vida secreta de los pumas accessible to the greatest number of Spanish-speakers, I contacted several Spanish speaking biologists both in the U.S. and Latin America. Knowing that within Latin America, there are many different versions of Spanish spoken, we wanted to choose our words and descriptions carefully, so that the largest amount of people would understand. For instance, what I initially thought we might call the video, the direct translation of “The Secret Life of Mountain Lions”, is not what we ended up calling the film, or the term we most commonly used. In fact, most people throughout Latin America know Mountain Lions as “pumas” or “león americano”. Some do refer to the species as “león de montaña”, the direct translation of mountain lion, but this was not the most widely used word, so did not end up being used a lot in the translated script. Along with the help of biologists, friends and a professional translator, and many back and forth conversations, we finally settled on a version. I learned an incredible amount about the Spanish language and the skill of translation in the process.
We were lucky to find Jorge Vázquez Pacheco. We cast a large net, asking our contacts in Latin America if they had any recommendations. We got sample recordings from radio show hosts, actors and others from all across North, Central and South America. We ultimately selected Jorge because we thought he had both a neutral accent and a very clear, expressive way of speaking. He was a joy to work with.
Why did you chose to work with WildFutures?
Previous to working for WildFutures, nearly all of my professional career has been spent doing direct animal care. Upon graduating from college, I set off to gain as much wildlife medicine experience as possible, moving from wildlife hospital, to exotic animal sanctuary, to zoo, learning as much as I could. While I loved the interaction of working with individual animals, I was ultimately somewhat disheartened by the scope of my work. I often could not do nearly as much as I wanted to, and what I was able to do ended with that individual. I found myself looking for work that could go beyond individual patient care, and reach a broader audience, potentially shaping the future for wild animal welfare. Luckily, I met Sharon and she has bravely taken a chance with me, allowing me to participate in this project which I so wholeheartedly believe in.
Have you ever seen a mountain lion in the wild?
While I have never seen a mountain lion in the wild directly, I have had many close encounters with this species. First, when I was in my early twenties, I worked at a zoo as part of a veterinary team. Several times while there I worked with a mountain lion named Johnny, who had been raised by a human family until they had to move and were forced to give him up. While we examined him he would purr and lick our hands through the fence constantly, always incredibly affectionate. Although it sadenned me to see him so confined, living a life so removed from that of a wild mountain lion, I still enjoyed opportunities to interact with him.
More recently however, I have interacted with mountain lions in a different way. I have had the pleasure of monitoring the wildlife camera traps of the ranch that I live on. Nearly once a month we see the same mountain lion traversing across the property. He has an ocular defect in one eye and is known to nearby biologists as Harvey. Although I have never seen him without the help of the cameras, I get great pleasure in the knowledge that I share my space and home with this animal.