City dwellers are surrounded by a wide array of urban wildlife, but there seems to be little appreciation for it. Unfortunately, there are some people who do not respect our animal neighbours. Most urban wildlife are often seen as pests, which can lead to the harmful treatment of their habitats and well-being, and in some cases to life-threatening situations. Urban development also contributes to habitat loss and wildlife deterioration, however green roofs and green corridors are helping to preserve habitats and save urban wildlife.
With the densification of the human population, the increase in housing and urban spaces has grown. Urban development causes habitats and wildlife to be displaced and destroyed. Many species on the Wildlife Preservation of Canada’s website are endangered or close to being endangered because of urban development or agricultural development. For example, the Spiny Softshell Turtle, a turtle that usually lives on the shoreline of rivers, is endangered because housing developments for beach-front properties have destroyed their habitats (wildlifepreservation.ca). Human-made dams do not help the Spiny Softshell Turtle either, they like to mate and swim in shallow, moving water however, dams stop the water from moving and create deeper waters. After the Springbank dam was shut down in London, Ontario, the Thames River has shown signs of being healthier. The Thames River is a major habitat for the Spiny Softshell Turtle, and biologists are optimistic that the population will grow in the next few years, but only if the dam remains closed (londonfreepress). Total habitat loss is not the only thing that threatens urban animals; the loss of a continuing habitat affects them as well. If an animal’s habitat is fragmented they will not be able to reach others for mating or protection (greenway.org).
Green corridors help the fragmentation of wildlife habitats. Green corridors help disperse animal populations throughout cities and allow for a diversified gene pool (greenway.org). Green corridors allow animals to breed, but they also give them a safe way to cross otherwise dangerous roadways. The Wildlife Corridors program in Banff National Park, invites the public to hike through the green corridors of Banff, while learning about the impacts and benefits of green corridors (wildlandsstudies.com). But not all green corridors are supposed to be used by humans. For example, 1.5 million pictures were taken of the wildlife corridors in Canmore, Alberta; these pictures show over 100,000 people using the corridors, mostly to walk their dogs. While it is great that people are enjoying nature, ecologists say it is concerning to see dogs using the corridors, especially when they are off-leash. Dogs off-leash can disrupt the local wildlife, destroy their habitats, and deter other wildlife from settling there (CBC News).
Urban wildlife is constantly at risk because they do not conform to human expectations. Animals that wander into urban areas are at risk of being hit by cars, exterminated, or shot by wildlife authorities. Animals in urban spaces are most often harmless, but these animals can end up being shot because humans are scared of them. In 2006, a mother moose and her young were wandering in downtown St. Albert, Alberta. The cow moose was shot because she allegedly charged at wildlife authorities. However, witnesses say that the moose was not being aggressive, and they accuse authorities for being too trigger-happy. The two calves were tranquilized and left outside the town (CTV News).
The city of Kelowna, British Columbia, has The Okanagan Valley Goose Management Program that is aimed at protecting geese and educating the public on urban geese. A lot of geese are urban dwellers and have nests in places like parks and beaches. The Canadian Goose population has been on a rapid decline in Kelowna. The Okanagan Valley Goose Management Program aims to protect geese eggs from getting addled by the public and other animals, and to educate the community on ways to coexist with geese. The program includes a banding initiative, encouraging the public to report banded geese in their area, so as to keep track of the goose population in Kelowna (okanagangooseplan.com).
Urban animals are at risk from domestic animals as well. In a study published by Nature Communications, it was found that domestic cats in the United States kill between 1.3 and 4.0 billion birds a year (Loss, Will, Marra, 2012). Domestic cats kill a large number of birds when allowed to roam free significantly reducing the bird population.
In addition to being dangerous, some people also think of certain urban wildlife species as pests. One only has to do a quick Google search for “urban animals” to find references like “trash pandas” and “rats with wings” about raccoons and pigeons. A Nature documentary called “Raccoon Nation” shows raccoons as smart, individual animals. The documentary was filmed with motion activated cameras, which caught raccoons opening animal proof garbage bins, breaking into attics, and opening doors. “Raccoon Nation” not only showed what humans miss while sleeping, but showed that raccoons are smart and capable. In the documentary, researchers took urban raccoons to a green space outside the City of Toronto. Each raccoon had a different reaction to the green environment, showing they can not only think for themselves, but that they each have individual personalities; something that was never thought of about raccoons before (Nature Conservancy).
Cities and educational institutions have been providing continuing homes for birds in urban environments by installing green roofs. The City of Toronto has a green roof by-law that states all buildings being developed or repaired must have a green roof installed if they have a Minimum Gross Floor area of 2,000 m² (City of Toronto). This by-law is the first of its kind in Canada, and has contributed to over 500 green roofs in Toronto. Many colleges and universities have included green roofs as part of their building plans, like Algonquin College and Vancouver Island University. Both schools have built green roofs to offset the climate impact of their institution. The green roofs provide habitats for birds and students are able to enjoy the green roofs too.
Urban green spaces play a key role in maintaining and sustaining urban wildlife. But green spaces and consequently wildlife, are negatively impacted by urban development; some animals are even endangered due to habitat loss caused by urban development. Urban wildlife is seen as dangerous and pesky, but some cities are doing things to encourage the prosperity of wildlife, like incorporating green roofs and nature corridors in their urban planning. Treating others with respect is something we learn in daycare, we need to remember this rule for our furry and feathered urban neighbours, and strive to be more respectful of their lives and habitats as well.
- Wildlife Preservation Canada, Conservation Action Plan: https://wildlifepreservation.ca/what-we-do/conservation-action-plan/
- Spiny Softshell Turtle and Dam: http://www.lfpress.com/2017/04/02/turtle-loving-biologist-wades-into-muddy-political-waters
- Information, green way: http://www.greenway.org.au/biodiversity/g-wildlife-corridor
- Banff Corridors: http://www.wildlandsstudies.com/index.php/banff-wildlife-corridors
- Canadians using green corridors more than animals: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/canmore-wildlife-corridor-human-1.4021290
- Information: http://www.mnn.com/leaderboard/blogs/why-wild-animals-need-wildlife-corridors
- Scholarly article: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1755-1315/18/1/012093/pdf
- Algonquin College: http://www.algonquincollege.com/acce/home/sustainability/
- Vancouver Island University: https://www.viu.ca/news/green-roof-sprouts-nanaimo-campus
- City of Toronto: http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=3a7a036318061410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD
Wildlife Treated Badly:
- Cow Moose being killed: http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/bystanders-say-no-reason-to-shoot-mother-moose-in-middle-of-alberta-city-1.3346770
- Birds being killed by house cats: http://abcbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Loss_et_al._2013-Impacts_Outdoor_Cats.pdf
- Raccoon Nation: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2011/02/11/documentary_reveals_the_secret_lives_of_torontos_raccoons.html
Wildlife Treated Well:
- Nesting Geese: http://www.kelownadailycourier.ca/news/article_c9e673a8-0eb9-11e7-97af-5bcf353c089c.html
- Goose Management Program: http://www.okanagangooseplan.com/content/