These furry and feathered city slickers have got it all figured out.
One night, I was driving home through northeast Los Angeles and came to a four-way stop. It was fairly late, hardly any cars were on the road, let alone pedestrians. Well, no human pedestrians anyway. A coyote emerged from the darkness, pausing near the edge of the sidewalk. He looked to his left, his right, noted my car, and then casually made his way across the street, responsibly staying within the white outline of the crosswalk. The coyote’s body language was assured, like it was as well-acquainted with the rules of the road as any human citizen. It turns out, this isn’t exactly an isolated incident. And why would it be? As long as there have been cities, animals have had to find ways to adapt to their surroundings, whether that means understanding traffic patterns or ransoming peoples’ sunglasses for treats. Here are how animals all over the world have adapted to city living.
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WHERE: Cape Town
Because of their endangered status, we don’t tend to picture penguins outside of fiercely protective environments—preserves, aquariums, the isolated reaches of Antarctica. But a brush with city living isn’t so unusual for the African penguins of Cape Town. While footage of these guys out for a breezy stroll has made it into many-a “Wildlife Taking Over Empty Streets in the Age of Coronavirus” roundup, penguins have been previously known to venture into the city. These penguins have been able to go deeper and deeper inland because the city has pushed out any major predators. Unfortunately, according to the BBC, up to 30 penguins a year are killed on roads each year.
If you step on Moscow’s underground Metro and you see a dog sans owner, don’t worry. They’re not lost, they know exactly where they’re going. The stray dogs in Russia’s capital and biggest city have long taken to the city’s underground Metro for warmth and food, and a few of them have developed a surprising knack for navigating the transit system. While some of these canine commuters have simply learned that riding the rails can result in them being fed by so inclined humans, it appears that a small subset has learned how to get to their desired destination in lieu of walking.
WHERE: New York City
It stands to reason that peregrine falcons—the fastest animals in the world—would prefer wide open spaces where they can put their ability to reach speeds of over 200 MPH to use. So, why then, have the developed an affinity for New York City, the densest city in the United States? Well, it’s only dense from ground-level. Peregrine falcons typically nest on cliffs, and the city’s soaring skyscrapers make for excellent nesting spots. Plus, there’s an abundance of readily available prey (in the form of pigeons) on hand at all times.
To be fair to the rest of the animals on this list, who have had to learn, adapt, and evolve, the stray cats of Istanbul didn’t really adapt to their surroundings. Instead, they were adapted—even catered—to. Though there are stray cats in just about every city on the planet, they are particularly visible (and beloved) in Istanbul. People put out bowls of food and water, and in many neighborhoods, people put out cat kennels so the local cats can take shelter during cold weather. Even the city’s most iconic landmark—the Hagia Sofia—is sometimes overshadowed by Gli, its resident cat (fun fact: Barack Obama stopped to pet her during a visit.).
The monkeys that live in and around Agra have adapted to life in the city not by developing clever tricks or behaviors but by being unholy terrors. They swarm the Taj Mahal to the point where guards are arming themselves with slingshots. They disrupt COVID-19 testing. People have been robbed. People have even died as a result of their unprovoked attacks.
Of course, Agra isn’t the only city in the world where monkeys have taken up residence, though not all are quite so aggressive. At the Uluwatu Temple on Bali, monkeys have learned that by snatching hats, sunglasses, or anything else you might have on your person and will only relinquish their prize in exchange for snacks.