The city – a paradise for wildlife?
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Wild boar rooting around in people’s gardens. Foxes making a home for themselves under a shipping container at the port. Kestrels nesting in church towers and hares popping up between blocks of flats. This is now par for the course in the German capital, as wild animals have found a niche for themselves in the big city.
Berlin – an attractive place to live for wildlife too
“With its many parks and gardens, railway lines and cemeteries, Berlin is a paradise for wild boar, foxes and other wild animals”, says Dr Sylvia Ortmann, a scientist at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin. The animals find plenty of food in the city, in places such as compost heaps and rubbish bins, not to mention safe havens in which to raise their young. What is more, they are hunted less than they would be in the forest. These are the reasons why Berlin attracts certain species of wildlife. It is estimated that several thousand wild boar and foxes live in the capital.
Foxes in the city
Foxes are regarded as particularly adaptable urban residents. These omnivores will happily devour both fruit and earthworms, though they will also hunt mice and small birds. It is estimated that they have a home range of around 100 hectares in the city, which is considerably less than would be the case if they lived in the wild. “They find everything they need here in a more compact area: food, dens and mating partners”, says Dr Sylvia Ortmann. The researchers know how the animals move around the city because they have fitted GPS transmitters to them and track the signals. Having analysed the stomach content of dead animals, they also know what they eat.
Citizens help with research
To learn more about how the lifestyles and behavioural patterns of urban foxes differ from those living in the wild, the IWZ researchers requested help from Berlin residents. As part of the citizen science project “Foxes in the City” (only in German), which has been underway since May 2015, local people report sightings of foxes or dens. “We have received 1,200 reports within the space of just a few months”, says Dr Sylvia Ortmann, explaining that citizens who observe the foxes contribute a great deal of knowledge to the research project. Furthermore, the biologist believes it is important to involve local residents, as this makes them more willing to accept that wild animals are part and parcel of city life.
Wildlife is important for biodiversity
After all, wildlife contributes to biodiversity even in the city. The mere fact that they transport seeds across considerable distances and thus help plants to spread is beneficial. When wild boar dig up grassy areas, this likewise promotes vegetation. It is only Berlin gardeners who are unlikely to be particularly pleased when wild boar, attracted by the scent of garden waste, break through their fences yet again and plough up lawns and flowerbeds with their powerful snouts.
Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW)
The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) studies the diversity of life histories and evolutionary adaptations and their limits (including diseases) of free-ranging and captive wildlife species, and their interactions with people and their environment in Germany, Europe and worldwide.www.izw-berlin.de