"Animals Are Our Neighbors in Cities and Suburbs, Not Pests"

"With a little knowledge, we can learn to coexist with the coyote in the backyard or the turkey walking down the street".

"Heather Tsetsi never usually let her dog, Lily, into the yard unsupervised. But one cloudy spring afternoon in 2009, she made an exception. She darted inside to grab something from upstairs, and when she returned, her large black standard poodle was signaling to be let in. Surprised, Tsetsi opened the screen door, and Lily walked calmly inside. As soon as she closed the door, Tsetsi recalls, she saw "something tan" walk right by her house.

That something tan was a coyote, living in the very center of Atlanta, Georgia. Over the next few years, Tsetsi and her neighbor Tisha Titus realized the coyote was denning between their lots, in a small overgrown space enclosed by their back fences and a train line. They took to calling her Wylie (as in Looney Tunes' Wile E. Coyote). She clearly lived there as much as they did. Titus would pull into her driveway to find Wylie sunning herself on the concrete. "She would always stop and acknowledge my existence. But there wasn't any fear. It was just kind of like, 'Hey, I see you up there. I smell you,'" she says. Wylie ate figs off their trees and shared space peacefully with the neighborhood cat, a 16-pound butterball named Ginger.

As we humans alter our ecosystems, we also create opportunities for animals. Organisms that benefit from human proximity are called synanthropes. It is easy to picture animals thriving off our trash: urban rats and pigeons, or seagulls by the boardwalk. But those animals represent just one part of the anthropogenic ecosystem. The trash-eating synanthropes often form the base of a food web that feeds less obvious neighbors, such as red-tailed hawks flying over Manhattan. Other synanthropes like suburban turkeys thrive where human activity eliminates the predators that may cause their rural counterparts to struggle."

Bethany Brookshire reports for Sierra magazine with illustrations by James Albon March 14, 2024.

Source: Sierra, 04/30/2024