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Monday, December 17, 2012

City Critters, by Nicholas Read. Orca Book Publishers, 2012. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"Crows and gulls are similarly adaptable birds, which is why they are about as familiar on most urban streetscapes as a McDonald's or a bus stop. But unlike the starling, sparrow and pigeon, crows and gulls have been in North America for as long as people can remember - probably longer - because both are native to this continent."

What kids don't love animals? I know only a few. Once again, I pick up a book by Nicholas Read thinking I will skim through it, get the gist of the information being shared and then tell you about it. I KNOW that it will be fascinating and fun to read. But, oh no! I get caught up in all that he has to share and so, it has taken a bit longer to get it posted than I had planned. It is worth the wait!

It took eighteen months to write this book because he, like so many of us, wanted to know more about the wildlife that is making its way into urban areas. He talked with scientists and experts about this rather new phenomenon; wild animals sharing our space in so many places in North America. As we try to understand and react to their presence, the more we know, the better we will deal with it. It is important to understand what is happening, and work to make conditions better for all concerned. To that end, the  author shares much of what he learned while trying to inform himself.

Who hasn't seen wildlife getting closer to the places we live? Since he couldn't find other books that would help him to understand this changing landscape, he decided to write down what he had learned in this lively and conversational book. You've heard the stories, so you know that it is an issue for many. Read your newspaper, talk to people: there are many incidents of animals attacking people and their pets, showing up in suburban areas...even a bear in downtown Vancouver after a garbage truck ride.

Those who are uninformed and don't recognize the dangers of feeding these animals cause concern. Of them, Nicholas Read has this to say:

"I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, meaning that I try to understand that the reason they feed raccoons is that they like animals. But how often do you need to be told that it's a bad idea? Because it is. It's a really bad idea-for humans and raccoons."

We don't want wild animals to be dependent on us, do we? Once dependent, they lose their will to forage on their own, and given the availability of a constant food source, their families grow in response to it and soon we have overpopulation. It's an accident waiting to happen. The author had a lot of prior knowledge concerning wildlife; even he was surprised at the abundance of certain animals in a variety of places. How about your swimming pool in Florida...and alligators? Or crocodiles in the park while you are riding your bike, or walking? Or raccoons crawling through the 'dog's door' while you are sleeping? What mischief might they make while you sleep peacefully unaware?

Studies are just beginning. It will be very interesting to see those results about the changes across the country in terms of the wildlife that is finding refuge and sustenance on our streets and in our backyards. It is an issue that is not likely to go away, so we must find ways to co-exist:

"Perhaps even more important, I'd like people to remember that what little wilderness is left in the world is home, first and foremost, to wild animals. It always drives me crazy to read or hear about people complaining about feeling threatened by animals in the wild and then wanting to do something about it. Well, folks, that's why they call it the wilderness. It's not a theme park where everything behaves according to Disney. It's the wilderness."

If you don't want these wild animals to move into your territory as we have moved into theirs, take responsibility for your actions. In the final chapter of this most readable book, the author offers ideas about what we can do to live with them in our neighborhoods.  A glossary, a list of resources and an index are each helpful and are followed by an acknowledgement for the many scientists and researchers who study urban wildlife and who answered Nicholas Read's many intuitive questions.
There is so much here to read, to contemplate and to enjoy! Take the time you need to pore over the stories, the images, the information boxes and the humor infused into the sharing.

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