What? Rats and Pigeons Aren't Wildlife? Sir David Attenborough On Urban Estrangement From Nature


Pigeons in Rouen, France. Photo: Frédéric Bisson / Creative Commons.

On a boat trip up the Bosphorus last weekend, our crew of urban-dwellers practically capsized the ship by racing to one side to catch a glimpse of dolphins bobbing through the waves. The fleeting moment was all the more memorable given that "wildlife" in and around Istanbul typically means seagulls and stray dogs -- a situation Sir David Attenborough says has become far too normal in the world's cities."Worldwide we are estranged from nature. Over half of the world's population is now urbanized, which means that more than one person in two is to some degree cut off from the natural world," the veteran natural history filmmaker told The Telegraph. "There will be some people who do not see a wild creature from one day to the next -- unless it is a rat or a pigeon -- and they aren't wild."

The Big Butterfly Count
Attenborough urged city dwellers not to let the natural world become "something you do on your holidays," calling on them to participate in activities such as the U.K.'s Big Butterfly Count of butterflies in local parks, woodlands, and gardens.

Earlier this summer, the magazine BBC Wildlife asked people in the U.K. to submit sightings of the creatures -- even pigeons -- they encounter during their daily commutes for a report to be published later in the year.

Citizen Scientists Keep Eye On Birds
In the United States and Canada, participants in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, a similar "citizen science" project that helps provide scientists with the data they need to see how animal populations and their migrations are affected by climate change, diseases, urbanization, and other factors that might mean they require conservation attention.

In addition to their practical purposes, such projects will also help people reconnect with nature, Attenborough hopes, telling The Telegraph: "If my heart is not going to be lifted by a butterfly because they've gone my life is going to be much the poorer."

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Tags: Animals | Birds | Cities | Urban Life