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Should We Make Cities More Inviting to Wildlife?

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This post is part of KQED’s Do Now U project. Do Now U is a weekly activity for students and the public to engage and respond to current issues using social media. Do Now U aims to build civic engagement and digital literacy for learners of all ages. This post was written by Melissa Fuest, a student at George Mason University.

Featured Media Resource (above)
VIDEO: MinuteEarth

Why Do Some Species Thrive in Cities?
Learn about examples of how wildlife has adapted to cityscapes over the course of time.

Do Now U

How important is it to try to make densely populated cities more inviting to wildlife? #DoNowUWildlife

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To respond to the Do Now U, you can comment below or post your response on Twitter. Just be sure to include #DoNowUWildlife and @KQEDedspace in your posts.

Learn More about Wildlife in Urban Areas

More than 50 percent of the human population now lives in cities and that number is expected to rise to 66 percent by 2050. With our world’s rapidly growing urban areas, our collective ecological footprint increases and threatens the health and biodiversity of surrounding ecosystems. How can we offset the negative effects of human expansion? Perhaps one option is to bring conservation of the natural world into our cities. This could mean building wildlife corridors, creating and preserving city green space, or making our built environments safe for animals. In one sense, this creates advantages to both wildlife and humans that would otherwise not exist. However, sharing space with wildlife also causes concerns over human-wildlife conflicts.


There are a number of justifications for merging human environments with wildlife. For one, many cities are located in biodiversity “hotspots”, or areas of high concentrations of species diversity, so balancing human and wildlife needs could help preserve the unique ecosystems and species found in these areas. Conservation in cities could also bring opportunities for environmental education, and in turn inspire stewardship actions, to those who would otherwise be excluded from experiences in traditional, remote conservation spaces, such as preserves and wilderness areas. Research has even linked green spaces with higher psychological well-being in humans. And, some species offer valuable ecosystem services to society; take, for instance, a coyote’s appetite for rodents or a brown bat’s ability to devour large quantities of pesky bugs.

[media-credit standalone=0 name="jude / flickr" link="https://www.flickr.com/photos/jude_the_obscure/2484864770/" align="alignright" width="400"]Raccoons have become very successful in living in urban areas.[/media-credit]
Raccoons have become very successful in living in urban areas.

While there are many arguments for encouraging wildlife in urban environments, there are just as many concerns. Close quarters with other mammals that may have diseases such as rabies or Lyme disease is a concern for both humans and pets. One recent study in a small town in Connecticut found that reducing the deer population by 87 percent or more reduced reports of Lyme disease in humans by 80 percent. Some people also worry about negative encounters between wildlife and pets or children, however there is little research about attack frequency on humans in the United States. Recent research that focused on human-coyote interactions in the Denver Metropolitan Area found that of 4,006 coyote reports, about 12 percent were attacks on pets and less than 1 percent were attacks on humans. Related studies found that there were less likely to be human-coyote conflicts in urban areas if they contained smaller amounts of highly developed areas and large amounts of forested and agricultural areas. Vehicle collisions and resulting injuries or fatalities for both wildlife and people are also an issue. It’s estimated that there are between one and two million collisions with big animals and cars every year in the United States. While many of these occur on rural roads, the number of collisions with animals increased 50 percent from 1990 to 2004. Another concern is the health of wildlife in cities as many animals such as raccoons and bears are attracted to–and feed on–trash.

How important is it to try to make densely populated cities more inviting to wildlife? Should wildlife be encouraged or discouraged to share space with humans?

More Resources

Video: WNET
Meet the Coywolf: The Coywolf and Its New York City Habitat 
In this episode of Nature, two researchers from a collaborative research group called the Gotham Coyote Project track coywolf activity in New York City.

Audio: NPR
Urban Coyotes Have Streetwise Ways
Hear first-hand accounts of encounters with urban coyotes, explore the ups and downs of living with these animals, and learn about their cryptic nature.

Article: The Guardian
Should Cities Be for Animals Too?
Modern cities become examples of how biodiversity in urban environments can be mutually beneficial to both humans and a variety of other animals.

Article: National Geographic
How Wild Animals Are Hacking Live in the City
See how urban wildlife, like coyotes, raccoons, birds and ants, has adapted to living in cities.

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KQED Do Now U is a bi-weekly activity in collaboration with SENCER. SENCER is a community of transformation that consists of educators and administrators in the higher and informal education sectors. SENCER aims to create an intelligent, educated, and empowered citizenry through advancing knowledge in the STEM fields and beyond. SENCER courses show students the direct connections between subject content and the real world issues they care about, and invite students to use these connections to solve today’s most pressing problems.

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