Ur­ban Wildlife

What were once “pests,” are now neigh­bours

Canadian Wildlife - - FEATURES - By Matthew Church

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.


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.

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