Urban Wildlife: Our Non-human Neighbors

Animals are a lot smarter that we think and will always find an opportunity for a free lunch. A process of animals adapting to urban life is called synurbization. The phenomenon that has emerged in the last few decades raises new challenges for wildlife managers.

roe_deer
A view from my office: a roe deer resting in the landscape park Tivoli, Rožnik and Šišenski hrib.

Over the Hedge (2006) is one of my favorite computer-animated films. The main character of the story is RJ the raccoon. He shows the great piles of food that humans consume and waste to wild animals and asks them: “Why bother with foraging for food when we can just steel all the ‘yummy’ food from humans?” And then the trouble begins… 🙂

Cities all over the world are becoming home to a great variety of wildlife species, which became part of our everyday life. Most of the species became so common that we can’t imagine cities without them – think about the pigeons in the City of Venice. Feeding squirrels and birds in the city park Tivoli is one way that citizens of Ljubljana are maintaining contact with wildlife and interact with the natural environment.

Wildlife species need food, water, shelter and space to survive. They like the abundance of food in fields, orchards, gardens, parks and other urban ecological islands. So it is not surprising that wild animals are attracted to urban settings. And yes, disgusting as it may seem, human garbage is also a source of ‘free lunch’ that comes on a daily basis. While we enjoy the sight of bees feeding on flowers, we are not that thrilled to see a fox or a crow (or even a bear) going through our trash.

Cities provides water all year round, coming from various sources such as ponds, puddles, drainage ditches and fountains – oases where even in the hottest summers urban wildlife can find bathing and drinking water. In addition to food and water, the urban environment is an endless provider of cover where wildlife seeks protection, raise their young, nest or just rest. Most people don’t even notice all the opportunities where animals find their little hiding places. Well, at least until we don’t find out that we share our attic with a colony of bats or noisy dormice.

For humans, sharing urban environment with wildlife is acceptable until we don’t feel threatened or our possessions get endangered. When it comes to reducing human – wildlife conflicts, first a sound monitoring and management system has to be established. An urban wildlife manager has to understand the biology and ecology of a species and its interactions in an urban settings.

We manage wildlife with direct population reduction and by modification of animal habitat through habitat factors described previously. Somebody once said: “Wildlife management is, at its core, the management of people“and I couldn’t agree more. The concept of hunting animals is not highly acceptable among people who are living in cities. When we decide to kill or remove a problematic animal from an urban area, we also disturb a part of society that is worried about the pain and suffering of the animals. The key to managing wildlife populations in urban settings is habitat manipulation. Wildlife managers have to see the urban environment not just from anthropocentric aspect, but also from the ecological point of view.

When planning for urban greening and for urban forests, think about the wild animals living in the city!

Saša Vochl, Slovenian Forestry Institute, Department for Forest and Landscape Planning and Monitoring

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