In Philadelphia, inside the city limits but outside the downtown area, you start to see a few trees. As soon as those trees become a part of the neighborhood, you may notice that the population begins to change. There are more than just people living here. In the morning, deer prints are around the crab apple trees, and if you’re walking the wrong way at night, you might run into a local skunk. When driving, you have to make sure to keep an eye out for those deer, foxes and the occasional coyote.
These animals weren’t as prevalent in urban and suburban areas a while ago. Their increasing presence around people is the result of multiple things. Humans keep expanding into rural areas, which are forcing animals to come farther into cities to survive. Planet Earth II captured footage of leopards hunting within the city limits in Mumbai, and hyenas entering a town in Ethiopia for scraps.
Even a quick search on YouTube will show you dozens of videos of wild animals in cities, from a raccoon in a bagel shop to a coyote riding on a public bus to monkeys snatching bags from tourists. These animals are here, and we are left with two options. We can ignore both our safety and theirs, creating situations that are dangerous for everyone, or we can take steps to protect them and keep ourselves safe.
Create a Safety Net
Animals that aren’t stressed will be less likely to attack and more likely to find a safe area to stay in. These areas are usually not occupied by humans and offer plenty of cover for the animals. Native plant life is a great place to start. Tall plants are the best, and reducing the visibility in your lawn is excellent. You don’t need to stack rocks and create a nesting place for snakes, but a pathway lined with waist-height bushes can create a safe path for animals to move.
The plants themselves can also be useful. Native plants are usually the best choice because the animals that live there are already familiar with them. You can also choose a style of path that will help the environment. A wide variety can help spread indigenous species, which is a big deal since urbanization is strongly connected to a sharp decrease in biodiversity. Turn your yard into a mini-park, and you’ll help protect a staggering variety of animals.
Stone, cement and asphalt all prevent water absorption and create runoff, which can damage your lawn. The more cement and asphalt there is in an area, like suburban and urban places, the worse the water quality is and the more severe the runoff. Mulched pathways can be useful while avoiding the problems created by less permeable surfaces. Organic or inorganic options like wood chips or recycled tires provide both a path and a healthy choice for the environment.
Keep Your Distance
The most obvious but easiest to forget rule is to always stay away. If you see a wild animal, no matter how calm they seem, stay back. Tourists are losing their bags to monkeys because they try to get close for a selfie, but that can result in serious bite wounds. This is especially dangerous because monkeys are closely related to us and can pass on more diseases than you might expect, including some kinds of herpes that can be deadly for humans.
All animals see humans as predators. Some are more adapted to us and will tolerate our presence if they expect food. They aren’t dogs though. They won’t only take what you offer, and they will attack any time they feel it necessary. Approaching any undomesticated animal creates an unpredictable situation at best.
Keep your things away from wild animals as well. Try to keep trash from accumulating outside, and plant vegetable gardens away from the house. Also be sure to know all the signs of common diseases like mange and rabies so you can identify a potentially hazardous animal from a distance and contact animal control. Sick animals are best dealt with, so they do not continue to spread diseases within their community.
Living with animals is a wonderful thing. Our conservation goals do not have to be limited to pristine, wild areas. With a few simple steps, we can help wildlife in our own backyard.
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