What were once “pests,” are now neighbours
Wild in the City: we introduce a new column to the magazine
Iwas riding my bicycle through one of Toronto’s lovely old cemeteries on a warm day in early March. As I rounded a bend, I caught sight of the tail end of a coyote as it managed to scamper out of my way. I stopped to watch as it ran off then slowed to an amble amid the rows of weathered headstones. I must have startled it, though it wasn’t moving with any urgency. It occasionally stopped and looked back to see what I was doing. I just stood there watching, my heart racing though not from the cycling — I was the one who was startled.
It wasn’t the first time I have had such an unlikely encounter. Like my neighbours, I have seen rodents from field mice to rats, raccoons, skunks, deer, eagles and hawks, foxes, rabbits and bats. I believe I once saw an opossum. That is an impressive array given that I live in the centre of a sprawling region-sized conurbation of nearly 6.5 million people.
Many humans think our species has distanced itself from the others, from nature. We turn a blind eye to most of it, noticing only when the attic is occupied by bats, or a park is fouled by Canada geese. Even night-hawk shift workers and clubgoers are oblivious to the busy routines of their fellow nocturnal creatures.
ANIMALS WE ONCE CONSIDERED PESTS AND INTRUDERS, WE REALIZE WE MUST TREAT AS NEIGHBOURS
The idea of a harsh and grubby city being a somewhat fragile and deeply interdependent ecosystem is new to most, while the notion of urban wildlife has become popular just in the past few decades. It has happened gradually as people have cottoned on to the idea that nature is all around us wherever you are, urban or rural. What we once considered pests and intruders, we must treat as neighbours. It is just as well too because the interactions are growing, as both human and animal populations continue to adapt and thrive in the urban context. It is good news then that many Canadian cities are drafting policies not to manage wild animals but instead to ensure the peaceful coexistence of those species sharing the same space.
With this trend in mind, Canadian Wildlife magazine is introducing a regular column on the topic. In it we will explore the many ways in which Canadian urbanites intersect with the feral world, and examine the peculiar challenges facing these urban animals, be they exploiters (like raccoons and gulls), adapters (skunk and deer) or avoiders (foxes, wolves and mountain lions).
The column will examine the unique threats that cities present to animal life, such as pet predation, light and noise pollution, rapid habitat fragmentation and loss. It will look too at what can be done to reduce the harm we humans do to our cohabitants. We will profile some of the people across the country who have made it their responsibility to protect their cities’ wildlife. It is a fascinating and complex topic, with many future column ideas already in the hopper. We look forward to bringing them to you.