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The coexistence of humans and animals— how much should humans interfere with suburban wildlife?

Thump,” goes a mysterious noise in your backyard. 

At 1 AM in the morning, yet another family of raccoons decides to host their weekly feast in your garbage bins. Rows of sparrows sit on the power lines above your house, and a cat quickly darts by your fence. All around us, there are growing populations of animals that have coexisted with humans ever since the development of suburban sprawl. But exactly how much of our lives should we share with theirs? How do we carefully control the populations of the animals that seem to live everywhere we go?  

Ever since the start of quarantine due to COVID-19 nearly over two years ago, people have started to notice the surge in animal activity around the neighborhood, from an increase in stray cats to families of squirrels robbing whole trees of their fruit. Even around the world, hoards of animals like monkeys or iguanas can be seen frequently roaming the streets in search of people.  After the extreme lockdowns ended, the wildlife aren’t resuming their typical behavior. 

As humans, we should continue to help the animals we come across because we hold the responsibility for living in their environments. The lives of these animals already revolve around our lifestyle, and as such they already depend on humans to survive. That being said, control of certain populations must be maintained in order for humans and animals to coexist in reasonable peace and safety. 

Firstly, most of the problems revolving around interacting with suburban wildlife stem from either overpopulation, overaggression, or the fact that they are simply too annoying. There are certain news stories about wandering animals, such as bears roaming through backyards and coyotes found slipping into houses and schools during the day. But the reason why animals have become braver lately can be linked to the search for food. As the size of their habitats decreases, (think, the woods or the hills near your home) food also becomes less abundant, forcing larger animals to venture into more populated areas in search of nutritional sustenance. 

Naturally, this technically is not safe for both sides, because both humans and wild animals are not accustomed to dealing with the other. Wild animals looking for food likely do not want to deal with pedestrians walking on the street, and your average person wouldn’t be too thrilled about meeting a coyote on their midday break.

A clear solution to this problem would be to prioritize the protection of these animals, such as having larger regional parks dedicated to keeping a population of wild animals. But since the average person wouldn’t have control over what their local government does with vacant land, a more direct approach would look different. 

In order to reduce animals prone to looking for food, we should reduce waste and littering on the streets that would attract animals in the first place in addition to securing trash cans. The food that we typically eat and sequentially throw out contains lots of greases, sugars, and salts, which makes it unhealthy for almost all animals. This can lead to overpopulation, which adds to the competition for food among the species and can cause a sense of general aggression. All in all, protecting your food waste and being careful not to leave trash in public spaces can help reduce the number of animals entering residential areas, and can lower the attacks of certain animals against people.

But, if that is the case, then what about the people who feed birds and squirrels? Then what will become of all the stray cats and dogs on the streets? 

These two cases are largely unrelated to the previous piece of advice, in which feeding animals like bears, coyotes, or raccoons would lead to more harm than good. However, feeding birds with birdseed or other foods that birds naturally eat in the wild is less harmful that leaving trash for them to eat. The same situation applies to the many stray cats that may wander your neighborhood. 

Feeding stray cats food that you would normally feed your own cats will not ruin the local wildlife. The concern here is that feeding one cat may attract more cats to your house, which is up to you to decide if that is something you can handle. In addition to managing the local cat population, stray cats should be checked out by a veterinarian and neutered, in order to prevent overpopulation, which has already taken place in places like Orange County.  

Considering all of this, it is crucial to note that everyone may have different opinions about the animals they see or interact with, for example, some individuals may welcome smaller animals like birds, but dislike bears wandering into their yard. Ultimately, it is up to individuals to decide how they wish to interact with their suburban wildlife. 

But perhaps the most important thing to consider is that no matter where you go, there are other creatures living in those spaces before you. So next time you encounter some of your local wildlife,  take some time to reflect on why they are there. 

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