Biting the Big Apple

Cities aren’t exactly ideal habitats for carnivores. Urban areas are fragmented by roads, have unnatural light and climate conditions, and offer little plant life. In spite of these challenges, many carnivores are thriving in cities and even surpassing their population densities in the wild.

The majority of people now live in urban areas, and carnivores are taking advantage of these new habitats. In addition to the more familiar raccoons and opossums, cities are seeing a rise in red foxes, coyotes, badgers, and mongooses. Even grey wolves, black bears, and hyenas have been spotted in or near urban areas, scientists note in a Journal of Zoology review article.

Urban carnivores have adapted readily to man-made sources of shelter and food. For example, red foxes have made homes in British inter-war housing, using the surrounding gardens as cover. In the Tokyo suburbs, Japanese badgers have established resting sites under the floors of buildings. And the abundance of pets, roadkill, and discarded food may offer carnivores a more reliable food source than natural habitats. In one California park, a resident was feeding red foxes seven kilograms of meat per day.

This cushy environment is allowing some carnivores to flourish even more than they would in a natural habitat. In some areas, urban raccoons and coyotes have higher survival rates than their rural counterparts. One team found seven times more coyotes per square kilometer in urban parts of southern California than rural areas, and raccoons have reached an “astonishing” 333 animals per square kilometer in one Fort Lauderdale, Florida park, about four to 400 times their density in the countryside.

The authors suggest that medium-sized carnivores do best in urban areas. Large animals may not cope well with fragmented habitats, while small animals may be killed by cats and dogs. The recent rise in urban carnivores “may mark the future for the coexistence of carnivores with man,” the authors write. Roberta Kwok | 24 April 2012

Source: Bateman, P.W. and P.A. Fleming. 2012. Big city life: carnivores in urban environments. Journal of Zoology doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2011.00887.x.

Image © GP232 |