Learning to Coexist with Urban Wildlife (They Could Probably Write the Same Kind of Article About Humans!)

Backyard Raccoons
Backyard raccoons in Toronto. Photo by Anne Louise Pearl


Reporter Alex Brown has written some interesting articles profiling the increase in urban wildlife in cities like Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Seattle. Initiatives in those cities to better coexist with urban wildlife are representative of what is going on across North America. As Brown states, “Most research on urban wildlife has taken place only in the past 15 years or so, but scientists nationwide generally agree that more animals are moving into urban and suburban areas. ‘Generalist’ species such as deer, coyotes and raccoons, which thrive in many different conditions, have found cities especially welcoming. Many have been forced out of their natural habitat by development, and an abundance of food and lack of predators make cities a good home.” 1

Brown reports that D.C. is “at the forefront of nationwide efforts to make cities and suburbs better places for wildlife.” 2 The District’s Department of Energy and Environment is planting 11,000 trees each year as it pursues a goal of expanding the region’s tree canopy to cover 40% of the area by 2032. Other initiatives like stricter storm water regulations are contributing to a healthier Potomac River Watershed. Brown observes it is not just remarkable that eagles, bobcats and nesting ravens are being seen for the first time in years, but “perhaps most important, the newcomers are being welcomed.” 2

A CBS News reporter shared the video below as he explained how scientists are working to better understand the interaction of wildlife with roadways to help shape urban planning decisions. The Peninsula Open Space Trust, profiled here, is studying how animals travel at night near San Jose, California. Their network of 50 game cameras captured the video below of a coyote and a badger using a culvert to cross under a roadway. The coyote gave a playful leap toward the badger before it waddled off behind the coyote as they set off in the night together. 3

In Seattle, a network of cameras is being used by a Seattle University professor, Mark Jordan, and his students to record wildlife “to help residents and local leaders understand their animal neighbors.”1 As a senior conservation scientist with Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, Robert Long explained that they are trying to change citizen attitudes from being frightened when they spot a wild animal like a coyote on a golf course, “Let’s show people how much these animals are already coexisting with us…Coyotes aren’t just on the golf course, they’re everywhere all the time.” 1

Meanwhile, in Toronto, a red fox set up housekeeping with her kits under the boardwalk along Lake Ontario and the city fell in love—so much so, that social distancing rules were severely put to the test. 4 The city erected barricades to try to prevent people from feeding the kits. CTV News reported that  volunteers from the Toronto Wildlife Centre stepped in to “help perform ‘aversive conditioning during daylight hours to help the foxes re-learn their natural fear of people’ as well as to educate members of the public about the animals.” 5

It is really no surprise that so many people in Toronto would go out of their way to welcome the kits. The city already has the unofficial title as the Raccoon Capital of Canada, if not the World. 6 The critters are famous for raiding city trash cans (the city spent $31 million distributing “raccoon-proof” garbage bins that turned out to be easily hacked by the animals who have adapted to eating our food waste). 6 Researchers at Laurentian University uncovered a trend toward obesity and higher levels of a marker for elevated blood glucose among the Toronto raccoons when compared with their country cousins. 7 It is hard to pick a favorite among the many videos posted by the City’s residents of raccoon antics, but this one of a raccoon stealing a pastry from a donut shop is my personal fave.

The bottom line is that we are living alongside all kinds of wildlife in our cities and suburbs. As Alex Brown observed, “Many wildlife agencies are shifting to a more hands-off approach in urban areas instead of treating every sighting as a problem to be solved.” 1 He quoted D.C.’s director of Energy & Environment, Tommy Wells, who said, “We’re seeing a major change in attitude of the residents of D.C, towards wildlife…It used to be that if there were bats in your eaves, you’d call Animal Control. Now we have residents asking us how to build a bat house.” 1 That is a great step forward!

—R.A. Kroft


1Brown, Alex. Deer, bear and everywhere: animals move into the city. Stateline. Pew Charitable Trusts. 9 March 2020.

2Brown, Alex. Bats, insects, coyotes, other wildlife make cities their homes. Urban communities are encouraging this. The Washington Post. 23 March 2020.

3Video. CBS News. Video shows coyote and badger on a mission together. 5 February 2020.

4Porter, Catherine. Toronto was obeying social distance rules. Then came adorable baby foxes. New York Times. 19 May 2020.

5DeClerq, Katherine. Fox family to be left untended as volunteers leave are due to alleged threats. CTV News. 8 June 2020.

6Davis, Stephen Spencer. Proof that Toronto really is the raccoon capital of the World. Toronto Life. 3 October 2018.

7Schulte-Hostedde, Albrecht I. et al. Enhanced access to anthropogenic food waste is related to hyperglycemia in raccoons (Procyon lotor). Conservation Physiology. 2018:6.

R.A. Kroft writes about her day-to-day journey in living a smaller, more sustainable life and other topics that interest her.

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