Categories: Unassigned

We are not alone in our cities




By Harveen Jagdeo – The 1st finalist for the YRE 2019-2020, age group 11-14.

YRE Canada is a national environmental journalism competition for writers, photographers and videographers aged 11-18.


Whenever we think about cities, we always visualize the architecture, the buildings and the social life. We also imagine green parks with well-trimmed trees and people with their dogs. City architects design the city with green space that conveys and enhances human life. Many cities are developing strikethrough greener and sustainable cities by conceiving biking systems, biking stations, public transit and lots more. However, many of us don’t frequently think about the squirrels that are scampering around the parks or the stray cats that are creeping around the streets. What will become of them? Cities are just designed for people, their homes, and different systems that enhance their life and make it better. In these cities, there is no room for urban animals out in the street and the animals suffer at the hands of humans in many different ways. They suffer from biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution, and much more. So as cities develop, the creatures that had once inhabited there adapt and call the urbanization their home. Scientists have recognized that animals are adapting and growing in unexpected ways all while suffering from pollution and climate change.

Firstmost, many species are becoming bigger since urban areas are like an all-you-can-eat-buffet. You can find critters munching on garbage, bugs, other small animals, and even some people feeding them dinner scraps. For example, in Toronto, Canada, the raccoon species don’t think about calories when they come across scraps of fries and junk food which gives them high blood sugar. In this city, raccoons are known to go through your compost bins as they contain leftover food. So Toronto has spent $31 million on this animal in creating raccoon-proof compost bins which have a particular lock on them and forcing the racoons into a diet. Therefore, big cities that contain a population of a certain species tend to create inventions in which it would protect them from the damage the animals create.

Raccoon with a garbage bin lid
Photo by Successfully Canadian on Unsplash

City animals have been observed for quite a while, and scientists pronounce that they also seem to ‘follow the rules of the road.’ Since these specimens have been enduring in the city for quite a while, they have determined how to avoid getting hit by cars. However, accidents/roadkills still occur. In British Columbia, Canada, a study was shown that from 1998 to 2007, 93, 853 animals were recorded killed on the highways on BC. Roadkills are one of the greatest factors in loss of biodiversity in urban communities. In the research of Cook County Urban Coyote Research Project, it was witnessed that the coyotes would anticipate for the lights to turn red before crossing the street. They also appeared to understand the traffic divisions and would look both ways before crossing.

Pollution in cities is becoming more intense and the waste is affecting humans as well as animals. Garbage thrown in the ocean comes from ships, trash from cities, and even waste from landfills. All of this litter eventually follows in water currents and sometimes ends up in lakes and rivers. The animals that live in these water bodies and the creatures living on the coast are infected and sometimes die. For example, the Great Lakes are located across the U.S. and along the border of Canada and account for 20% of the world’s fresh water. So a lot of exotic garbage can be found in them and animals such as Blue Herons depend on the fish in that water. So when the infected fish are consumed by herons, they ultimately die and sometimes manage to give birth, however their babies do not last long.

page2image18146240Contaminated water Photo by​ ​Anh Vy​ on​ ​Unsplash

Air pollution can come from industrial processes and everyday people. When these harsh chemicals are released into the air, they can contribute to acid rain or smog. For instance, there are a lot of acidic chemicals in Canadian lakes, like Lake Ontario, however, there is really no recovery. Acid rain is occurring in Ontario due to the large amounts of sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen emitted by industrial doings such as coal-burning. The acid harms a lot of the marine animals as well as the water-feeding birds around the area of Lake Ontario. Acid is also soaked up in soil which is harder to remove than from water and can take years to recover.

page3image18122784Smoke coming from factory Photo by​ ​Ella Ivanescu​ on​ ​Unsplash

The urban species also have habits that go against their wild instincts. In England, a study had shown that rural foxes had been in dens with up to 14 other animals. In the wild, these foxes are very protective of their territory, however, the urban foxes have learned that they don’t have much space and nor do other animals. In parts of the world like North America, animals like birds have become nocturnal. For example, sparrows in New York fly at night to find bugs and insects which are attracted by the bright lights in the dark; they also do this to avoid crowds, cars and people.

Overall, animals that had lived in the area before a city was built, tend to continue to live there. They have learnt to adapt to the environment and survive. Humans have also learnt to live with these animals and overtime we have created technologies against them or tried to provide them with food and shelter. Countries and cities are working with the United Nations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and though many of the goals focus of humans, some also refer to animals and better cities, such as SDG #11, #13, #14, and #15 (refer to: ​​). Though urbanization is spreading at an increasingly high rate, people and animals are proposing to adjust to the lifestyle and we are trying our best to protect animals to prevent biodiversity loss and people interfering with wildlife.

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