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Urban Wildlife

Urban Wildlife

As of last year, more humans live in cities and towns than in rural areas. As our urban centers expand in population and area, they increasingly encroach on the natural habitat of wild animals. In some cases, people and animals learn to coexist reasonable successfully, but most of the time the animals end up with the short end of the stick.

Now I’ve heard of bears exploring towns in Alaska and foxes roaming the streets of London at night, but I have a feeling that my own hometown, Cape Town in South Africa, has a rather exotic collection of urban wildlife that’s hard to beat. Let me know if your city can do better.


Boulder’s Beach in the suburb of Simon’s Town is home to a colony of African Penguins — yes, there is such a thing. Surrounded by family homes, the colony was established by two breeding pairs in 1983 and has since grown to encompass about 3,000 individuals.

African Penguins, also known as Black-footed or Jackass Penguins (the latter because of their donkey-like bray) are a vulnerable species. Aside from natural predators, including sharks and Cape Fur Seals, they are threatened by oil spills and other pollution, commercial fishing and a loss of habitat. Since pre-industrial times populations in Namibia and South Africa are estimated to have plummeted by 95%.

At Boulder’s Beach, which forms part of the Table Mountain National Park, the penguins are protected. They can be seen waddling along foot paths and swimming out to sea to fish and on the part of the beach that is open to the public, you can even swim with them.


If the African Penguins at Boulder’s Beach are the cutest examples of Cape Town’s wildlife, the Chacma Baboons that inhabit the Cape Peninsula are probably the naughtiest. They eat fruit, honey, insects, bulbs, roots and scorpions, but at various places of interest, they have learned to associate tourists with food. Some have even learned to open car doors and pinch snacks and assorted other items. In built-up areas, they have been known to lead cheeky raids on urban homes and schools.

Baboons would normally avoid people, but when food is involved, they can become rather aggressive, so for everyone’s sake, it’s become quite important to keep people and baboons apart from one another as diplomatically as possible. To this end, conservation organisations and the city council have established baboon monitors — people employed to discreetly follow and observe troops of baboons as they forage through the peninsula and steer them away from urban areas where they might get into trouble.


False Bay on Cape Town’s southern coast has a large population of Great White Sharks, attracted, among other things, by the 60 000-strong colony of Cape Fur Seals on nearby Seal Island. Shark attacks on swimmers and surfers do occur, but compared to the many other ways in which Captonians manage to injure and kill themselves and others every year, they are exceedingly rare.

Great Whites are recognised as vital members of the aquatic ecology and are protected in South Africa. Authorities have resisted calls for shark nets that tend to do more harm than good. Instead they’ve come up with an alternative that, although not 100% effective, has proved to be highly successful.

Along the mountainous False Bay coastline, shark spotters armed with binoculars are deployed on elevated ground to keep a watchful eye on popular surfing and bathing beaches. When they spot a shark they sound an alarm and warn their colleagues on the beach who raise warning flags and get bathers out of the water.


In 2009 a young, 800 kg hippo by the name of Zorro caused some consternation in Cape Town’s southern suburbs when it escaped from its home in the Rondevlei Nature Reserve and set up camp in the adjoining waste water treatment facility. The reserve is separated from neighboring residential areas by a fence and the herd of hippos is normally quite happy in the shallow fresh water lake that gives the reserve its name, but Zorro had gotten into a fight with his old man and needed to skip the place.

In 2004, another hippo escape artists, appropriately named Houdini, also did a runner and managed to evade the conservation authorities for some time. Other than these occasional escapades, hippos and Captonians co-inhabit their city peacefully.

Which wild animals do you share your city with?

Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

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10:12AM PDT on May 18, 2012

Grazie per il bell'articolo.

6:57AM PDT on May 18, 2012

Colleen P, your comment misses the mark. The problem is that at current reproductive rates, the human population doubles about every 40 years. Your tireless efforts to harass kids, twits, elders, and cetera, to death will not solve any problems, nor help in the least. As a species, we have to use the brains we have to see that we must lower our birth rate to zero or less. At 7 Billion population, we can no longer think of reproduction as an individual right, but as a limited right, that is, legislated to a limit per woman, or any other mechanism, that allows each person opportunity to pass on their genetic package, but not to overwhelm the gene pool through self-selection of unlimited procreation. Comments such as yours, imply a blissful unawareness of the resource limitations of planet Earth, and an unabashed ignorance of major problems facing Homo sapiens as a species. War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death will be the horses of our future, unless we act soon. We will all ride Death, but the other three could be avoided by reducing population voluntarily through birth rates. Otherwise, the first three will prevail. Black Death reduced Europe's population about 40 to 50%. Wouldn't it be lovely to avoid a natural correction such as that?

6:28AM PDT on May 18, 2012

Washington State, USA, is home to a broad variety of wildlife, as noted by Shelly P. Our Fish & Wildlife Department has a rather innovative program for dealing with cougars (mountain lion, Puma concolor) and bears that wander into town. Unfortunately, the program is not established throughout the state. I blogged about the program, and the F&W officer who runs the program

3:11AM PST on Jan 21, 2012


11:54PM PDT on Oct 30, 2011

~I'm not sure I'd want to share my surroundings with a wild animal~If there was actually a wild animal I had to co~exist with, I definitly would take steps not to arouse their attention as much as possible!!~

5:13AM PDT on Oct 9, 2011

James G.. if I go to social network sites, and Deviant art and harass some kids to death, will I be your hero-savior? hey "we need less people". and spineless twits need to be weeded out.
if I can kill someone because I said they were sick for wanting to marry and have sex with Sonic the Hedgehog, then I am either powerful or they were weak. And do we really need those running around breeding?

7:47PM PDT on Jun 19, 2011

darn all i have are deers coyotes wolfs bears black panthers (i think its some kind of big cat) turkeys and the occasional emu (but those are usually ones that escape their pens)

9:48AM PDT on Jun 19, 2011

I love Cape Town! We have only dears...

4:19AM PDT on Jun 6, 2011

thanks, Cape Town is lovely, wish I could spend more time there

6:34AM PDT on Jun 5, 2011

I wish I shared my city living with more wildlife!
We have squirrels and birds and geese. It's a rare sighting to see a racoon but I have seen a few.

let's do our best to appreciate and teach others the value and need for urban wildlife.

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