Is that the neighbor’s dog barking in the apartment upstairs, or should you look out the window for something a little wilder? On Sunday morning, Columbia University Public Safety spotted three coyotes in front of Lewisohn Hall, on Broadway and 116th Street. One of the coyotes was sighted again later in the morning, but no arrests were made–these wild dogs are still roaming free. The Chief of Public Safety warned community members to report any sightings, but not to approach the animals. This isn’t the first coyote sighting in Manhattan this year, and it certainly isn’t the first encounter between humans and those “other” urban dwellers who usually remain hidden in public parks, subway tunnels, and in the recesses of urban minds that have forgotten what nature looks like.
It’s only February, but the NYC Bureau of Communicable Diseases reports that 32 rabid raccoons have been captured in Manhattan since the beginning of 2010. The Throggs Neck housing projects in the Bronx have also been infiltrated by unwanted visitors: skunks. One lifelong resident reports,”If it was just rats and roaches, I could take care of it myself. But these are wild animals.” When does an animal cross the line, from being a standard feature of the natural landscape to becoming an urban pest, wild vermin? Really, we’re the ones encroaching on them: As housing developments, shopping centers, and golf courses (like the one near Throggs Head) continue to proliferate in New York suburbs, animals like skunks, raccoons, foxes, and even coyotes are displaced from their natural habitat. Manhattan may not seem like the obvious choice for wild animals, but at least there aren’t any bulldozers or apartment complexes in Central Park.
In New York City, nature doesn’t have many rights; man is king here. How many New Yorkers will be willing to defend the rights of raccoons and coyotes to live in “our” parks, eat “our” garbage, and roam “our” streets? Probably not many. These animals truly are native New Yorkers, but without the accent, no one seems to recognize them.
Photo courtesy of Alan Vernon