Coyotes have already made themselves comfortable living in our urban areas, but will wolves and bears? (Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
It may seem like a stretch, but could you imagine if your urban metropolis was run over by wild animals? Scientists have found a small, tight-knit group of coyotes just five mile from Chicago's O'Hare airport - prompting questions as to whether larger carnivores will be bolder moving into our cities.
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The coyote community managed to survive within just a third of a square mile, utilizing urban waste to keep its belly full.
"That's an indication that they don't have to go far to find food and water. They're finding everything they need right there, in the suburbs of Chicago," said Stan Gehrt, an associate professor of environment and natural resources at Ohio State University. "It amazes me."
Professor Gehrt has been leading the effort to track and understand coyotes around Chicago for the past 12 years.
Coyotes, according to Gehrt, are the largest mammalian carnivore to penetrate urban landscapes. And they may be an indication of things to come.
"The coyote is the test case for other animals. Raccoons, skunks, foxes -- they've already been able to penetrate the urban landscape pretty well. The coyote is the most recent and largest. The jury's out with what's going to happen with the bigger ones," said Gehrt.
When Gehrt speaks about the 'bigger ones,' he's talking about wolves, mountain lions, and even bears. These animals aren't invading our backyards anytime soon, but it's important to understand that many of these creatures are forced into our urban areas as a result of human encroachment upon their natural habitats. The question is, will we find a way to intuitively deal with animal immigrants into our cities.
"It used to be rural areas where we would have this challenge of coexistence versus conflict with carnivores. In the future, and I would say currently, it's cities where we're going to have this intersection between people and carnivores. We used to think only little carnivores could live in cities, and even then we thought they couldn't really achieve large numbers," said Professor Gehrt.
"But we're finding that these animals are much more flexible than we gave them credit for and they're adjusting to our cities.That's going to put the burden back on us: Are we going to be able to adjust to them living with us or are we not going to be able to coexist?"
Let's hope for their sake that we can.