Thursday, June 1, 2017

City Animals

When we spoke about working animals, Kat suggested that we talk about City animals, so we took it on! Kat started by noting that she wonders what future archaeologists will think when they find the bones of animals in the midst of our cities - whether they might speculate that people interred large rodents in their walls for religious or other reasons, etc.

The issue is that our cities are full of animals, but we generally ignore them. Pigeons, rats, cats, dogs...and that doesn't count insects like cockroaches and bedbugs.

One issue that Che raised was that cities have expanded into the territory that animals previously occupied. Some animals can't remain when that happens; others can. There are foxes in London, for example. Leopards appear in some cities in India to hunt feral pigs. Singapore has a lot of wildlife. You can find deer in the suburbs in California, and moose in Canada. Coyotes also live in cities. Peregrine falcons actually thrive in city environments. My dad once had a peregrine falcon nesting outside his office window in Chicago... and sometimes he would see it feeding its young live pigeons! Singapore has river otters ever since they reduced pollution in their rivers. San Francisco has sea lions. My own town has raccoons, skunks, and possums - we used to have a wooden deck, and they nested underneath it (though sequentially, not all at once). Raccoons are cute but destructive, skunks are stinky (we used sand covered in coyote urine to encourage ours to move on), and possums are actually a great way to get rid of ticks. Squirrels didn't get mentioned in the hangout that I recall, but they are all over the place in my area.

Humans have this odd expectation that the boundaries we draw are official, and that other creatures won't cohabit with us. Except, that is, the ones we want to cohabit with. Cats came into our habitations because cohabiting with humans allowed them to eat mice and rats that were attracted to our garbage. We create conditions that attract animals, and then predators are attracted to those animals.

Some animals end up in cities because they are brought in as pets and then abandoned. People flush exotic animals like piranhas, alligators, and snakes down the toilet and they end up living in the sewers.

My friend, author Janice Hardy, has an endangered turtle that lives in her back yard in Florida.

The urban density of rats is far higher than the country density of rats because city conditions encourage them to flourish.

Morgan mentioned that in her area of upstate New York, she has less trouble with deer than cities nearby because there is more room for the animals to move away from human dwellings and find food outside the proximity of humans.

Kat said that cities have a simplified food web as opposed to higher biodiversity in wilderness areas. Apparently the highest density of peregrine falcons is actually in New York City, because the buildings are basically tall "cliffs," and they can easily find hot updrafts from the streets. There are also lots of pigeons to eat. We speculated that would make the city a dangerous place for snakes.

Crows are incredibly densely populated in Tokyo, Japan. They are also quite impudent, and will snatch food from your hand if you carry it around with you. Their population grows because Tokyo doesn't have room for sturdy plastic bins for trash, so people put their trash out in plastic bags that crows can easily rip through. The trash bags don't get picked up until 8 or 9 am because trash workers often have to take the train to get to their workplaces, and trains don't run all night.

Kat told us about a city in Thailand occupied by monkeys. The windows there are covered in iron bars, and no one walks in the street. Kat saw a monk who carried a slingshot, and a monkey snatched the remains of a bubble tea from Kat's daughter. "We expect to be at the top of the heap," she says, "and it's disturbing not to be there."

Che says we're making animals smarter by making them defeat more and more complex methods of protection for our food, etc. I told everyone about a raccoon that came through the cat door in my childhood home and started washing cat kibble in the cat's water dish.

My current town has a lake where geese, ducks, terns, seagulls, egrets, herons, and other waterbirds like to hang out. Some of them are coming from the marshlands on the other side of town.

In the Australian town of Geelong, sometimes you find koalas who have walked from tree to tree and ended up in the middle of the city by accident.

In a post-apocalyptic setting, what kind of animals would co-habit with humans? Would animals be very angry?

Rats and cockroaches would have big die-offs without humans to support them.

We speculated about what would happen if octopi became pests. It would be very hard to octopus-proof!

This was a fun discussion. Thanks to everyone who attended!