Scientists have coined a new term, synurbization, to
describe the adjustment of wild animals to urban
According to Seth Magle, director of the Urban Wildlife
Institute at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, "Our urban
areas are ecosystems, with just as many complex
interactions as the Serengeti or the outback of
Florida residents have long had to learn to live with
alligators, but when one got into a house through a
doggie door, it was too much.
Texas is overrun with wild hogs.
And over 2,000 coyotes in Chicago have learned "traffic
patterns and how stoplights work," according to Stan
Gehrt, wildlife ecologist at Ohio State University.
New York's Central Park is one of the country's best
breeding sites, with 285 species spotted there. "A few
decades ago, New York City lacked white-tailed deer,
coyotes and wild turkeys, all of which have now
established footholds," according to an article by Jesse
Greenspan in Scientific American.
Greenspan reports on black bears hibernating in crawl
spaces of suburban New Jersey homes and exploring
Wisconsin shopping malls, coyotes roaming Tucson,
AZ, backyards and hunting within a few miles of the
White House in Washington, D.C., and animals from
Canadian geese to cottontail rabbits reaching
populations never seen before.
"For the first time in history, so many people have a
chance to experience wildlife directly," he says.
This may be great news for people. You may not have
to travel to enjoy the soothing effect of wildlife. But is it
good for the animals?
A 2004 study by Maciej Lunich, presented at the
International Urban Wildlife Symposium in Warsaw,
compared urban animals with the same species in the wild,
to find the following:
1) a higher density in cities, resulting in increased
2) reduced migration, probably due to the increased heat of
3) prolonged breeding, even in winter (see above);
4) circadian activity, (e.g., birds singing before sunrise),
probably in response to artificial lights;
5) increased life-span, but with worse health;
6) changes in diet; and
7) tameness toward people.
Why is this happening? Here are some possible reasons:
1) Global warming. Forcing some species to extinction and
others to move to survive.
2) Increased green space. Again, a real plus for urban
humans, but a draw for wild species setting the scene for
possible confrontations, as with Meatball, the bear in
3) Urbanization (cities expanding into wild areas). Those of
us who insist on living on the edge of wilderness are
invading the animals' environment.
4) Escaped farm animals turned feral. A common
explanation of the wild hog problem in Texas.
5) Lowered pollution levels. Again, something we're justly
proud of that, while making the city more comfortable for us,
does the same for wildlife.
6) Sources of food, water and shelter. We've lured animals
never before seen in cities to what would seem a hostile
environment with accessible garbage, pet food, fruit trees,
bird feeders, ponds, wood piles and dense vegetation.