Wild City

Raccoon prints in our backyard.
Raccoon prints in our backyard.

About ten years ago, when I lived on the other side of town, I did something to offend the crows that lived on my block. Perhaps I got too close to a nest or they resented my windowsill gardening activities. All spring and into the summer, gangs of two to five crows would follow me, swooping angrily, as I ran errands or waited at the bus stop. Even worse, they’d follow me on my regular long walks, once for more than five kilometers. I won’t say that it was the primary motivation for moving back into this neighbourhood, but I was certainly glad to move away from that mob of angry birds.

Those crows weren’t the only animal neighbours I left behind. There was a squirrel that kept digging up and eating the flowers in my window box, until I filled the planters with nicotania. I’d also built an uneasy truce with the skunk that lived near my bus stop. We gave each other a wide berth and things were fine.

Around the same time, I had a tenser encounter with a skunk when I was waiting for a bus late at night, after visiting a friend. The bus stop seemed to be in its path and I had to walk down the pavement half a block or so before it would move through. Across the street from the bus stop, a pair of raccoons were trying to break into a derelict corner store. None of that was as startling as realizing that the dog I saw trotting down the sidewalk at the corner was really a coyote. It stopped and stared at me for a few seconds, then crossed the street and continued on its way.

There is wildlife all around us in the city and many species have found it to be a hospitable place to live. This is even more obvious as suburban developments move farther and farther up the mountains in places like North Vancouver and Coquitlam. Bears rummaging through garbage bins or cars, cougars in backyards, and deer staging garden raids are common occurrences these days.

The problem is that the more we notice wild animals, the worse it is for them. There has been a bit of a frenzy in Vancouver over coyote sightings and aggressive raccoons, but it’s human behaviour that’s at the root of the problem. People feed animals, then lash out when they lose their fear of humans. Better that we keep our distance and keep our cats inside.

We’re writing a new contract with the wild animals that live in cities, as they adapt and thrive here. If we can find ways to manage our encounters with them, they can become part of healthier, greener urban landscapes. Our cities might even play some small part in the wildlife corridors that are being developed to compensate for the habitats lost to development. With respect and a wide berth, we might be able to negotiate a settlement beneficial to all.