Next door to the Hippoptami: adapting to life amongst animals

Anna Whealing looks at whether cities and people are adapting to the increased presence of animals in our towns.

In rural Columbia, around 200 miles north-west of Bogota, a veritable Hippopotamus community is thriving. Introduced by the drug barren Pablo Escobar who decided to illegally import a variety of African animals in a Russian plane to create his own private zoo, the Hippos escaped and really took a liking to the Columbian environment.

Don Pablo introduced Hippos onto a new continent by accident; but this is not a unique phenomenon. In the world today there are many animals who are prospering in environments that they would never have come into contact with without human intervention. Rabbits were brought over to Australia in the 18th century with the first European settlers, originally as a source of food but since then they have become a huge problematic pest with no natural predators. Since the 18th century however the crossing between environments, especially between humans and animal habitats has increased what with international air-travel, and the huge growth of cities. Animals are adapting to new environments, out of necessity and also practicality, and they are adapting fast.

Humans and animals have always coexisted. Where ever there are humans there are rats, flies, geckoes, cockroaches, dogs, cats, cows: this list goes on. We have domesticated some animals over time so much that they have become distinctly separate from their mother species, or no longer have a wild equivalent. Humans cannot live without animals: we farm animals, we train animals to do jobs we could never do ourselves and to use their senses to our advantages.

There is no doubt, however, that our industrial advances are leading to stranger animal human cohabitation. For instance, Manatees in Florida, which were listed as an endangered species in 1967, have been congregating around power stations during winter, using the heated water discharged from the power plants instead of migrating south into warmer waters. This has saved the Florida manatee population but it also means that manatees are becoming increasingly dependent on human habitats. This is also the case with foxes in London, racoons in Berlin, and even black bears in many American cities. As the generations progress, living in urban environments where food is always readily available, predators are few and far between. Warm accommodating shelter is easy to find, and such animals appear to be continuing lose their wild instinct and evolve to live only in our cities. The BBC has reported that black bears that live in cities are 30% fatter than wild bears. The difference between these cases is that Manatees are peaceful whereas foxes, racoons and bears are pests carrying diseases and posing threats to humans. In Kenyan villages cheetahs have been hunting herded goats as a source of regular food, coming into farmers’ homes and unnerving the villagers.

Humans and predators have never happily shared the same environment, but what can we expect when the growth of humans has resulted in the death of many other species? As we destroy and build upon these predators’ natural environments they have no choice but to take up their lot with us. Sometimes it works out well, as it did for mountain goats in northern Italy who are climbing the near shear faced reservoirs to acquire their minerals. These manmade structures up in the mountains usually limit animal’s environments by shrinking rivers and storing a vast about of water in one place. But the damns have actually widened the goat’s environments. The goats lick the dried sault off the rock face of the damn whilst still using their natural climbing ability, they are provided with a constant supply of minerals but their natural drive for survival isn’t compromised.

Every animal – everything from pigeons to bears to humans – will do anything to survive, they will adapt to any environment in order to prolong their species. This change will undoubtedly force other changes: we as humans will simply have to adapt to include these animals in our environments. The foxes are in London they are with us for good; but which animal will be next?

IMAGE: alexdi

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