Wildlife Takes Over Cities: Colonization Threat or Rendering New Biological Systems?

As people flock to cities, they are not alone. Foxes, mountain lions, bears, coyotes, raccoons, and other wild species are figuring out smart ways to live among people. Just like us, they like the fruits of civilization, including hot dogs, potato chips, seemingly no worse for the junk food diet, and now artificial grass for a change.


2014-01-23T19:25:06+00:00
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An 82-pound mountain lion roams the San Francisco streets tiptoeing into the night without ever being seen. In downtown Chicago, a coyote lives in the cemetery, eating chicken the mourners place on the graves. More than 5,000 coyotes roam the city of Los Angeles feeding on garbage cans, food left from pets and small pets themselves. Raccoons are often quests in urban backyards across the country, along with skunks, gophers, moles, and opossums. Attracted to plentiful food and protected from hunting, a veritable menagerie of creatures calls cities home. If they call your backyard their home, there is little you can do about it. It happened to a couple with two young daughters who live in Ashton, Bristol.

The fox's family tunneled under the deck, occupied the backyard and as "Metro News" speculated, took family hostage. The worst thing is, Zoe Hunt and her husband Dan had just invested thousands of dollars in the backyard upgrade; the composite decking and artificial grass installation. Now allegedly it's being trashed by unwelcomed guests. Foxes are running riot of synthetic turf, pooping, and peeing; they seem to feel very comfortable and have no intention on leave. They are rummaging through garbage bins on the street. If you ever lived in the area with foxes, you know how they scream at night. Their screams are loud and high-pitched, sometimes frightening as it sounds like a human cry.

Family of foxes colonized the backyard

There are five times more foxes in England than anyone can think. They plummeted by 43 percent over the past twenty years. It's nearly 150,00 urban foxes; about one for every 300 urban residents. In the United States, red foxes adapted to towns and cities as well. They eat mice, birds, invertebrates, berries, and leftover pizza. Like cats, they love to navigate around the urban areas and can access more parts of the city than less agile carnivores such as badgers. Many people enjoy wild animals in their backyards in the sense of having wildlife in their gardens. Fox prey on rats and birds, and like cats, help to control pest populations. However, they can also spread diseases harmful to humans, so it's not a good idea to lure them into your residence with food.

With so many animals going urban, we may as well consider cities as a part of nature, and not the way around. Most people tend to believe that adaptation is a part of our evolutionary heritage; it's what leads us to better biological systems. The concept sounds straight forward: genes that help to enhance survival tend to reproduce themselves, and thus, those genes and correlative behaviors grow more frequent. For example, in the cold artic, we see more stocky and fat body type people since this body type helps to conserve heat. But not all natural adaptations are good for the biological system.

Imagine, you have grown up in a rural area with fresh, clean air and then moved to a noisy, dense, air polluted city, New York, for example. Over time, you would become adapted to air pollution and would less likely recognize its presence. It doesn't mean your health is getting better. The noisy streets of Manhatten still act as a stressor on your biosystem. Daily traffic jams cause constant stress, whether you like it or not. You might be adapted to the taste of french fries, whoppers, big macs, sodas, milkshakes, and fried chicken, but we all realize the junk food diet damages our health. The same is happening to animals.

Becoming a successful city dweller means being quick, resourceful, and adaptable. The omnivores are fitted the best for the big town's living. They can eat almost anything, from fruits to leather, pizzas, and leftovers. With at least 400,00 animals killed annually, to survive and breed, animals must have an excellent problem-solving ability to avoid people, no matter where they are.

Biologists at Montreal’s McGill University tested the problem-solving skills of finches from rural and urban environments. The results have shown that urban birds performed much better than their rural rivals. We all know how easy raccoons can get into the trash can; the collected data revealed that 80 percent of the city animals passed the test, while the urban raccoons are mostly failed to try their best in getting a free meal.

From a health step-point, thriving on junk food diet does raise the animal's cholesterol. However, urban foxes are doing surprisingly well, even having more babies. Some biologists suspect that a bad diet doesn't catch up with animals as much as with humans because animals are short-lived.

It's yet to be discovered how the animal's adaptation to cities and new diets affect future generations, but some animals are better to adapt than others due to their personality traits. Coyotes, for example, benefit from their shyness and fear of new things. A curious raccoon may do well in a city. Deers, bears, and cougars in California are among the myriad of creatures struck in California by motor vehicles and cost California hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

While smaller animals can quickly adapt to new life conditions, it's not easy for large animals as they didn't develop instincts yet to avoid road collisions. The death toll of the highways kills starts with 6,000 animals hits every year, and this number is only for 10 percent of the California paved roadways.

Animals-filled cities are just beautiful places to be, but the question remains unanswered: how do we turn cities into something positive for wildlife? People in the country see wildlife all the time; when they see it, they don't call for authorities. Florida residents in 1950th were so used to hanging out alligators in their backyards; they didn't raise the alarm; just made hissing noises to chase them away from a property as they would do with any unwelcomed pet.

For city residents and their pets, wild animals often feel like a threat. The growing wildlife is on the verge of colonizing cities; at least how it sounds like from the media reports. But it doesn't seem like animals have a choice; do they really enjoy facing a new set of problems or being destroyed by hunters and domestic animals? Guess not.

As concrete jungles and actual jungles start bleeding into each other and intertwine, wild animals are calling cities home more and more. They follow the rules of the road. They downsize their homes. They change their schedules, and they get bolder. But let's get it straight: many of the species offer services to people who live in those cities.

The scavengers offer clean up services, helping to protect waterways from roadkill runoff and the spread of disease. While humans produce waste, urban animals are using litter as a food source. Foxes and free-roaming cats keep the mice's population down. (mice are often injected with Lyme-infected ticks.) Snakes help to control the rodent population. Opossums and raccoons are aggressive groomers, killing thousand of ticks in a season, so while they are abundant, the ticks population is lower. So, the next time you see a raccoon in your garbage bin, don't forget to say "Thank you." Bats, purple martins, swallows, swifts, and some songbirds are great in keeping the mosquitos out. Welcoming rat- and mosquito's predators into cities do not only offer pest management; it also beneficial to our health and well-being.

Biodiversity matters; the more there is, the more resilient the ecosystem. Thus, more wildlife diversity there is in a city, the more resilient we are to disturbances, floods, and increasing heat. Wildlife provides incredible benefits to our communities.

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