Cameras Capture Thriving Wildlife at TECS

By TECS News Team

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Cameras Capture Thriving Wildlife at TECS
Photo by Jeffrey Esparza Motion-activated cameras placed on the TECS campus over the winter break caught these photos of a mule deer and 14 images of bobcats. The night-vision camera also caught the silhouette of a mountain lion (not pictured). “If you have healthy, large predators it means the whole ecosystem is in good shape,” says Science teacher Jeffrey Esparza.
With the kids away, it was the wildlife’s turn to play at the Topanga Elementary campus during winter break. Science teacher Jeffrey Esparza and some of his Topanga Elementary Charter School (TECS) students set up motion-activated camera traps to watch the trails while the students and staff were off-site enjoying the holidays. The experiment was a huge success, resulting in multiple bobcats, three mule deer, and a mountain lion all being captured on the cameras during the three-week period. “I was teaching my fourth- and fifth-grade classes about camera traps, and then we did our own experiment to see what roams the trails of our school campus,” explained Esparza. “We set the cameras in trees in what we thought would be high-traffic areas, and let them run for the duration of winter break. One of the cameras was right next to the amphitheater, and another was just beyond it. They are motion- and heat-sensing cameras activated to snap any movement in range. “It was awesome. We captured photos of three mule deer, our native deer in the Santa Monica Mountains. We also caught 14 bobcat images, and after studying those I was able to confirm it was at least six different individual bobcats. We captured one mountain lion image which was the major highlight. It was taken in the dark and the night vision on the camera wasn’t working too well, but I saw the silhouette of those big shoulders and body, small head, and long tail, and I knew what it was immediately. After we lightened up the image, I was able to confirm it was a mountain lion.” After they returned to school last month, Esparza told his excited students that the images show what a healthy ecosystem surrounds them in Topanga Canyon.
“We have the largest carnivore in the Santa Monica Mountains—the second largest cat in the Americas behind the jaguar—roaming right behind our school. “That shows how balanced this ecosystem is—if you have healthy, large predators it means that the whole ecosystem is in good shape.”

Esparza, and the cameras used for the experiment, are paid for by Topanga Enrichment Programs (TEP), the school booster club which is funded by contributions from generous parents to pay for resources and initiatives that LAUSD doesn’t cover.

Esparza was a new hire at the beginning of this school year, having previously worked at the Los Angeles Zoo. This latest lesson was inspired by his own academic studies. For his Biology Masters degree he studied the movements of armadillos in Brazil using similar technology. These findings confirmed to him what an exciting place Topanga Elementary is to work and learn in the five acres of oak woodland and nature trails that are part of the school’s unique campus.

“The kids were excited, and I was, too,” he said. “We have put the cameras up again and will check them in three weeks. We can’t wait to see what we find next.”

Raised Garden Beds Flourishing Again
The Science Committee, a vital subcommittee of TEP, is behind further work underway to enrich the environmental education of children at TECS.

Photos byKelly Rockwell Young students enjoy gardening lessons twice a month and enjoy getting their hands dirty in the newly-revitalized raised beds.
Many parents kindly volunteered their time over the past year to bring the raised garden beds on the school campus back to life using TEP funds. The wooden frames have been sanded and repaired, the soil amended with fresh compost and mulch, the water systems have been fixed and upgraded, and enclosures have been built to protect the edible plants from critters. Help has also come from Franklin’s Hardware in Woodland Hills who donated two thermometers to the project. The youngsters are finally getting their hands dirty in the revitalized beds, with specialist garden lessons offered to TECS students twice a month.

Second-grade mom Kelly Rockwell, who is nearing the end of a graduate program for Outdoor Education and Leadership, is helming the initiative alongside other parent volunteers.
“This is part of a long history of gardening and beautification at Topanga Elementary. I know some of the parents who built the garden beds, and their children are now college graduates, so it is nice to be part of that legacy.”
Parents interested in helping with the gardens, or supporting TEP in any other way, should contact

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February 3, 2023

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