We are living in a world where one species has unprecedentedly gained the dominant status over nine million others and proclaimed exclusive ownership over the planet… Can you guess what this one species is? Humans are building extensive networks of city hubs and road systems that cause habitat fragmentation and make wildlife a prisoner of the urban infrastructure maze. As a result, two worlds clash, and animals often get hurt.
Nullker has addressed an organization that specializes in the interactions between humans and wildlife - Réseau Centres de Soins Faune Sauvage (France) - for some explanations and clarifications regarding our complex relationships with nature within urban environments. Le Réseau is a non-profit association that groups together 30 wildlife centers in France. Madame Floriane de Gérard volunteered to shed some light on this tug of war between civilization and wildlife so that humans could find ways to reconcile with other species that also have the basic right to exist on this planet.
As human cities are growing, the wild territories are shrinking. In essence, we steal the planet from wildlife, thus threatening biodiversity both locally and globally. While we, humans, focus on our achievements in urbanization, we often overlook the cost of our progress. And this cost is calculated by the loss of wildlife.
According to statistics kindly provided by Floriane, the destruction and artificialization of wild territories are responsible for 30% of the loss of biodiversity that we are experiencing nowadays. For example, 68% of vertebrates have disappeared between 1970 and 2016. Many people have noticed that birds are significantly less seen in our gardens.
Furthermore, urbanization destroys and divides ecosystems, while agricultural intensification further alters natural habitats. Floriane explains, “When you are [an animal] surrounded by roads, you can’t move to feed, reproduce, or even migrate. If there are no more hedges or bushes but only fields, it’s much more difficult to hide from predators or build a nest.” Anthropogenic activities like the aforementioned examples make species come closer to cities, looking for food or habitat.
Whether we want it or not, wildlife finds its ways back onto the territories that were once their domain and are now called human megapolises. Wildlife is already inhabiting our cities, and because of growing urbanization, the trend will continue and potentially escalate. This is how nature tries to regain and restore the lost balance. Thus, since there is no chance to fight it, it is better to embrace it. In order to do so, humans need to adapt their cities to make them more eco-friendly. The latter can be done on a personal as well as a collective level, and even on the administrative level of city-planning.
Floriane de Gérard gives a few suggestions: “We should now more than ever focus our effort on reducing the fragmentation of natural habitats and restoring our ecosystems. For example, we can leave green zones untouched or create new ones within our cities, which will create natural resources in terms of shelter and food for wildlife. If you have a garden, you can help wildlife by providing them with places suitable for nesting and living, such as bushes and zones which you don’t trim so that wildlife can feel safe there. People should also use more environmentally friendly methods of weed and pest management than herbicides and pesticides… In terms of improving wildlife mobility in cities and around, in France, we actually have some wildlife’ passages to help animals cross the roads safely, or some underground tunnels for hedgehogs, for example.”
Perhaps the most insightful advice from Floriane is as follows: “Coexisting with nature by doing nothing and letting areas untouched is sometimes the easiest and most efficient way”.
Indeed, nature has millions of years of practical experience on how to manage biodiversity and organize self-sustaining ecosystems. So, the best thing people can do is not interfere and let nature do its job. Unfortunately, it is not always possible, as the human world already poses many threats and challenges for wildlife that disrupt the natural cycles, habitats, and lifestyles.
The technogenic evolution of the human species tends to be much faster-paced than the natural Darwinian evolution as we know it. Hence, wildlife in urban areas experiences the pressures of adaptation and new threats..
Related to urbanization, climate change has multiple effects on wildlife. On the bigger scale, global warming changes weather patterns and natural zones, making the territories that were once endemic to certain species unfit for living. Drought-triggered or man-cased wildfires is another aspect that brings animals to human cities - or to rescue centers, for that matter.
For those living in cities, heatwaves become a major survival issue. For example, due to unbearably high temperatures under roofs, young birds may become dehydrated and overheated to the point when they have to jump out of their nests!
Cat predation is also an issue, especially for birds and small wild animals. Domestic cats still have their wild hunting instincts, and they often satisfy them by targeting urban wildlife. Combined with the lack of hiding places (such as trees or hedges) where birds and animals could escape to safety, this problem becomes even more prominent.
Arguably one of the biggest threats to urban wildlife is humans who are either uncaring or sometimes merely unaware of the needs and rights of wildlife living side-by-side with us in our cities. Human traffic results in numerous roadkill accidents involving wildlife. Disturbing or exposing nests can cause parents’ abandonment of their offspring. The list goes on. Such cases often result in wild animals being hurt or in distress. If they are lucky, they will be brought to animal rescue centers by the people who care.
Floriane has an important remark about the lack of the full picture of dangers animals are facing. She says, “It is important to remember that what impacts wild animals most isn’t necessarily what’s bringing them to our hospitals. It’s a ‘survivorship bias’: we received those who are injured but not those who died from the cause.” What does it mean? It means that the real scale of the distress humans impose on wildlife is difficult to estimate.
“90% of animals are taken in because of anthropogenic causes: traffic, collisions, construction, agriculture, unintentional traps, hunting, chemicals…” Floriane says. The list of causes of wildlife distress is virtually endless, yet it involves humans on a regular basis.
Organizations such as Réseau Centres de Soins Faune Sauvage do their best to remedy the harm done. Since 2016, the whopping 242,611 animals of 257 different species have received care here!
When asked, “What do your volunteers and other caregivers experience when letting a recovered animal back into the wild?” Floriane says, “Only joy and relief ! It’s never sad because it means we have fulfilled our job to care for an animal and can now let it live a new life in its natural habitat. We care for each of them, but we try not to emotionally bond with them.”
Reflecting on volunteering in a wildlife hospital, Floriane says that it is very rewarding but requires rigor, investment, being able to step back, and a lot of energy because the work is physically and emotionally challenging. In addition, there exist financial difficulties, as some structures are run by up to 100% volunteers. It means that human resources are invaluable in allowing wildlife hospitals to maintain their activities, while financial support from donors is also paramount.
Floriane calls for everyone who is interested or cares about wildlife to volunteer in a local wildlife hospital. Regardless of the country, they are always looking for volunteers for a lot of different tasks. In Europe, one can easily find any wildlife rescue center on this map: https://www.w-r-u.org/liste-des-centres
We asked Floriane de Gérard why it is important to unite efforts and unify the protocols of treating wildlife locally and globally. She kindly explained that, as a network association, the role of Réseau Centres de Soins Faune Sauvage is to help care centers to do their job properly and to improve themselves. It includes creating tools, searching for financial help, communicating with the general public, administration, and other stakeholders. Care centers need to share their experiences in order to grow and get better through the exchange of information and wisdom. It’s important to unite in order to evaluate and show the positive impact wildlife care centers have on biodiversity.
To conclude, here is a message from Floriane for you to ponder: “We must learn how to coexist with nature, and that requires compromise. So far, humans have been expanding all around the world, but it’s time to assess the damage we’ve done, learn how to do better now, and restore ecosystems for the future.”
Le Réseau centers provide care to over 50,000 animals per year, treating them and releasing them back into the wild. By conducting this human-to-human interview, we are literally telling the story of tens of thousands of animals who have had rough encounters with us, humans, in our human world. Giving ‘voice’ to animals is as important as providing them care and granting them the right to life.