Feral Cities: Adventures with Animals in the Urban Jungle by Tristan Donovan
My rating: 4/5 cats
the irony is absolutely not lost on me that the reason it took me so long to fulfill my firstreads reading/reviewing obligation for this book was because of my own adventure with animals in the urban jungle, where “adventure” means “horrorshow,” “animals” means “bedbugs,” and “urban jungle” means “queens.” which is medium-urban. bedbugs are only briefly mentioned in this book, perhaps because like bloody mary, to mention their name is to summon them. and you do not want to be summoning them.
i find this subject matter fascinating, and have already read My Backyard Jungle: The Adventures of an Urban Wildlife Lover Who Turned His Yard into Habitat and Learned to Live with It and the intended-for-kids Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World, so some of the information is more reminder than learning, but it’s hard not to get excited over stories of animals blurring the line between “nature” and “civilization.” it reminds me of that great quote from tana french’s Broken Harbor:
The first thing we ever did, when we started turning into humans, was draw a line across the cave door and say: “wild stays out.” What I do is what the first men did. They built walls to keep back the sea. They fought the wolves for the hearth fire.
but “wild” never stays out – wild is curious. and in this book, you will learn about the many places where walls keep back nothing and humans once more have to elbow their way into their places by the hearth fire. the reality is that “civilization” now includes wildlife, for better or worse.
There was the sleeping IT worker who turned over in bed to cuddle his girlfriend, only to find a fox that had gotten in through the cat flap and snuggled up to him.
which may just mean his girlfriend is a shapeshifter
In Hackney, a fox entered a Victorian terrace home and mauled two nine-month-old babies.
(although, TWO nine-month-old babies strongly suggests twins, and since you know how i feel about twins, this may have been one of my operatives.)
to me, there’s nothing so terrible about finding a fox in your bed
so imma keep my catflap open.
less cute than a fox in your bed are the giant african land snails that plague miami. these things are no joke. they are giant potentially deadly hermaphrodite house-eating terrorist snails that breed fast. terrorists because they eat pretty much every crop, ruining the agriculture upon which the entire nation relies on from october through may. potentially deadly because they carry rat lungworm disease, which can lead to eosinophilic meningitis, for which there is no cure. house-eating because… they eat houses. eventually.
so watch out for those things.
and don’t do this
unless you love meningitis.
also not at all cute are the flocks of starlings that terrorize indianapolis. pardon me, murmurations of starlings.
but while that sounds all mellifluous and “starlings” sound like a cute pet that rainbow brite would have had, these things are diabolical. my feelings towards birds being pretty much the same as my feelings towards twins, this chapter pretty much solidified my fear and terror.
because this is unacceptable
they get into and onto everything
and they’re coming to get you
in indianapolis, half a million starlings will descend, and tens of thousands of them will be looking to set up camp downtown.
THAT IS TOO MANY BIRDS!
too many birds making loud unpleasant bird noises, pooping their poop all over the buildings; poop whose acid will erode landmarks and besmear windows, make slippery puddles all over the ground, and waft disease all over the populace. thanks, birds! and thanks, eugene schieffelin, who in 1890, intentionally released these things into our country because he thought it would be just wonderful if all the birds mentioned in the plays of William Shakespeare lived in North America. this is why people with money need advisors to prevent them from going and doing stupid things that ruin everyone’s lives.
what else, what else…?
oh, stone martens!
adorable creatures who, in the swiss town of winterthur, began destroying parked cars. like, chewing up all the cables and wires and things that make cars go, and peeing all over them. terrible, right?? but they also DID HANDSTANDS ON THEM, which the internet refuses to show me pictures of. so all you get is this:
i’m not going to get into the reasons behind this mystifying behavior – that’s on you to read in this book, because we have so many more animals to meet! but i will leave you with this quote:
“If you hunt them, they are replaced by marten after marten after marten. We have no chance of a world free of marten.”
snakes, cougars, raccoons, coyotes (“This is the other thing the cemetery doesn’t like,” he says, looking at a gravestone where a coyote poop sits next to the words “Devoted wife and mother.”)
and – the opossum!!
now, i personally think opossums are pretty cute, even after one huge and particularly badass one hissed at me on connor’s front steps.
i’m sure it felt remorse
everyone knows about opossums; they’re all over, but here are some thing i just learned from this book:
– two-week gestation period
– twenty offspring, but only 13 teats – COME ON, EVOLUTION!
– and worst of all: As if a life-or-death race to a teat two weeks after conception wasn’t tough enough, not all the teats work. “So if they clamp onto the wrong one they are out of luck,” says Mason. “It’s really hard to be an opossum.”
poor babies. i’d let them tip over my garbage anytime…
monkeys. now, i just saw Monkey Kingdom, so i know all about how mischievous these little guys can be, and how they can RUIN a child’s birthday. you need to see that movie – it’s the best of the disneynature earth day films so far. this book covers different monkeys, but they are equally problematic:
Jimmy was trouble. An outlaw who grew up among the destitute. An infamous gangster who terrorized the people of Simon’s Town, South Africa. A thief. A killer.
Jimmy was also a baboon. His gang? A troop of baboons living on the mountains that overlook the coastal Cape Town suburb.
these creatures steal goodies right from out of the hands of people lining up for free food at a shelter. they break into houses, schools, naval bases, smashing windows and pushing people off of balconies and ramps, killing a few, jumping onto tables at restaurants and terrorizing tourists.
and worst of all, this:
NOT THE TEDDY!
but, except for all the murders, it’s hard to hate them:
“They are very, very funny, entertaining animals. They are way better than any carnivore or antelope because they do crazy stuff in front of you,” he says. “They get on your car, they masturbate in front of you, and if you watch the juveniles playing it is so like humans in a playground.”
who doesn’t want to watch a monkey masturbate, after all?? you just don’t want it to be the last thing you ever see.
i know i have really only been talking about the fun animal parts and not the parts of this book that are about how we live with these animals, or how we rid ourselves of them if we need to, so here’s an ingenious/insane solution those wacky canadians came up with for dealing with their elk-invasions:
“We would go in and grab those calves and move them to a safer location with Mum hot on your heels. So somebody would pick the calf up and run with it, but you had a partner with you who had the hockey stick because that cow was maybe a meter or two behind you wanting to strike you with her feet.” As the calf thief ran, the colleague would use the hockey stick to keep the angry cow at bay until the calf had been dropped in a suitable location.
don’t try that at home, eh?
there’s a lot about birds in here, but i just want to talk about the pigeon real quick. because while canada had some pretty progressive ideas about elk-control, they really dropped the ball when it came to pigeons:
In Montreal, Canada, researchers caught feral pigeons and taught them how to open paper food containers by using their beaks to pierce and then widen holes. After teaching the birds how to do this, they returned them to the streets. Soon the container opening technique began to spread among the pigeons of Montreal, as other pigeons copied the ways of those trained by the researchers.
it’s only a matter of time before they apply that same technique on our faces, so thanks a lot for that, canada.
pigeons do not mess around. and they are bullies.
and crows. good lord, crows.
enjoy these terrifying facts about corvids:
–The jungle crows of Tokyo … [have] figured out ingenious ways for stealing food from the bowls of dogs kept in backyards. Some crows land on dog kennels and drop objects onto the ground to distract the dogs from their meal. As the dog rushes over to investigate, the crow flies over to the bowl and scarfs the food while the pet is still busy sniffing the item. Another, more daring, strategy crows use is to creep up behind eating dogs and yank their tails. The birds then lead the enraged dog away from its bowl, out of the backyard, and onto the street. Then they fly back into the yard to eat the food while the hapless dog continues looking for the crow outside.
–…the crows of Seattle have learned to use architecture to their advantage by deliberately chasing sparrows into windows to knock them out. It’s not a perfect strategy, however. Sometimes the sparrows make a sharp turn just before hitting the glass and the pursuing crow slams into it instead.
–In Juneau, Alaska, a pair of ravens figured out how to dispense whipped cream out of an aerosol can. One would use its beak to spray the cream while the other ate, after which they would swap places.
–Some crows even recognize the corporate brands amid our garbage. In one test, crows were presented with two brown paper bags filled with french fries. The only difference between the two bags was that one was plain while the other sported a McDonald’s logo. Time after time the crows opted for the McDonald’s bag first.
–Crows also use automobiles to their advantage. In San Francisco, American crows work together to drive flocks of pigeons into high-speed interstate traffic, so that they get hit by cars and buses. The crows then feed on injured or dead roadkill pigeons. Never has the term “a murder of crows” seemed more apt.
there’s more, but i feel like i have gone on too long already. but there’s also chickens, boars, rats, many different kinds of buggas, and way too many birds.
tl;dr – nature. sometimes it’s fantastic to have it right up in our houses.
but sometimes, it’s a nightmare
this book is now free of its bagged-up-protection-from-bedbugs prison and now i can finally honor my firstreads obligation.
I AM SO SORRY, GODS OF FIRSTREADS!
bonus – no bedbugs!
TWO firstreads wins in one year??? i feel like a princess!!!