5 Myths About Urban Wildlife

May 1, 2024

It’s not uncommon for us to think that cities are only made for humans to thrive. Catch sight of a bat, deer, or even fox in an urban area and you might rush to find ways to relocate the animal to a more natural area. But this is just one of the many misconceptions people can have about urban wildlife. Whether we realize it or not, humans and animals can and do coexist in cities all over the world.  In fact, animals are as much a part of the urban landscape as we are.

Today, we’ll explore a few of the most prevailing myths about urban wildlife.

Myth No. 1: I should intervene when I see wildlife trying to live in my city.

Just like humans, wildlife can adapt to different environments—including cities. While you might think you’re being an urban wildlife warrior by trying to “help” an animal get out of a city, intervening often does a lot more harm than good.

“I hear a lot of people say these animals don’t belong in the city. And I think it’s important to remember that it’s not really up to us. The animals have made a decision in many cases to be here, and many of these species are thriving here,” says Urban Wildlife Institute Senior Director Seth Magle, Ph.D. “They’ve really become part of the fabric of the city.”

Living wildlife friendly often means peacefully coexisting but not directly interacting with the animals you see. Remember, “observe don’t disturb,” when it comes to urban wildlife.

Myth No. 2: Urban wildlife are pests.

It’s true that certain animals can cause measurable harm—both physically and mentally—to humans. But there are also so many species of urban wildlife that add value to our lives and allow us to connect with nature in meaningful ways as we go about our days living in cities.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand there’s an amazing diversity of animals that live around us all the time,” says Magle. “There’s a tremendous amount of natural wonder around us all the time that we just have to open our eyes to in order to realize that it’s so much more than just ‘those’ pigeons.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with pigeons!

Unfortunately, the distribution of desirable urban wildlife isn’t equitable across cities. Across the country, research from UWI shows that gentrified neighborhoods are more likely to be home to animals like rabbits and deer, while non-gentrified neighborhoods are more likely to be home to undesirable animals like rats. Creating a more equitable distribution of green spaces across urban neighborhoods, regardless of median income, could go a long way in introducing city dwellers of all backgrounds to the splendors of urban wildlife.

Myth No. 3: There’s nowhere natural for animals to go in a city.

Just like humans, wildlife also benefit from urban green spaces. Cemeteries, parks, golf courses, and forest preserves are some of the most common places animals call home in  cities like Chicago. Urban conservation work is becoming an increasingly important issue and ensuring that animals have ample green space can help us avoid a biodiversity crisis in the future.

“Cities can provide a valuable habitat for wildlife, especially if they’re designed appropriately and with wildlife in mind. So often we don’t think of cities as being places where conservation can’t happen but in fact, they really can,” says UWI Assistant Director Liza Lehrer. “Cities can also provide really important places where conservation can happen and species can thrive.”

beaver camera trap shot

Myth No. 4: We’ll never be able to coexist with urban wildlife.

City-dwelling humans and animals are so inextricably intertwined, there’s no way for us to not coexist. It’s important to keep supporting urban wildlife populations because happy, healthy animals mean happy, healthy people.

“One Health is a way of thinking that really emphasizes the connections between human health, animal health, and environmental health. The goal is to work toward a win/win solution,” says UWI Assistant Director (One Health) Maureen Murray, Ph.D. “When we make clean environments that support healthy wildlife populations, that means fewer health risks for people […] because animals can carry diseases called zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted to people.”

A great example of a “win/win” solution that benefits humans and animals alike is the community garden. These green spaces benefit humans through community-building, access to fresh produce, and the opportunity to connect with nature in dense urban neighborhoods. Urban wildlife—particularly pollinators like bees, butterflies, and wasps—also benefit from the native plants and flowers in community gardens. These pollinators help the gardens prosper, which in turn benefit the humans tending to them, and so the cycle continues.

Myth No. 5: There’s nothing I can do to help urban wildlife.

We can all chip in to help our animal neighbors thrive in the cities we both call home. One big action we can take is supporting urban planning that is designed appropriately and with wildlife in mind. Advocating for the creation of accessible green spaces throughout the city is another important way to help ensure that humans and animals are living their healthiest possible lives. There are also plenty of small actions we can take that add up to make a big difference.

“Never feed wildlife, either directly or indirectly. Because that helps to encourage unnatural behaviors for animals. They might become dependent on humans for food, or they might start seeking out humans for food and that’s where some of those conflicts and interactions that we don’t want to happen start to occur,” says Lehrer. “Another important thing to consider while reducing conflict with wildlife is to keep our pets secure. So that would mean keeping your cats inside or keeping your dogs on a leash when you’re out for a walk. That helps to reduce the disturbance toward wildlife that our pets might cause.”

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