Library raccoon teaches about urban wildlife
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2012:
NEW YORK CITY–The Queens Library at Baisley Park, South
Jamaica, seized the opportunity to educate New Yorkers about urban
wildlife after inadvertently acquiring a resident raccoon during
Superstorm Sandy, safely ensconced in a glass-enclosed atrium garden.
How the raccoon arrived was anyone’s guess, but staff
presumed he would leave the same way when ready. Young visitors
named him “Mr. Rocky Books,” and made a cardboard shelter for him,
placed inside the atrium by library staff, who also supplied him
with fresh food and water.
Scientific American blog editor Bora Zivkovic meanwhile
reviewed the effects of Sandy on the New York City rat
population–visibly abundant in alleys, basements, attics, and
subway tunnels, often said to outnumber the people.
Serious estimates suggest that New York City in truth has
anywhere from a half million to a million rats at any one time,
amounting to not more than one per eight people.
“Some were never affected by flooding,” Zivkovic wrote.
“Some were on the surface already and managed to run or swim to
higher ground. Some knew their way out to the surface and made it
there. But some rats certainly drowned. Those are the rats that live
deep inside holes we never know about, let alone visit. Rats who
never go up to the surface. Rats who had the misfortune to have to
try to escape essentially vertically, up against strong gushing
water. My guess,” Zivkovic concluded, after reviewing the physics
and physiology of the matter, “is that most of the rats survived.”
Wildlife, unlike confined pets and livestock, usually sense
and flee from impending natural disasters. The 24 states hit by
Superstorm Sandy include about two-thirds of the U.S. human
population and as much of the wildlife, of species that anyone
counts, but reported wildlife casualties were few.
Scott Kahan, Northeast regional chief of the National
Wildlife Refuge System for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told
Darryl Fears of the Washington Post that he saw only a few dozen
waterfowl left at the Edwin B. Forsy the National Wildlife Refuge
near Atlantic City on a post-Sandy helicopter inspection of the
“Typically I would have seen tens of thousands of waterfowl,”
Kahan said. Thirty-five of the 72 National Wildlife Refuges in the
path of Sandy remained closed afterward, chiefly due to roads
blocked by flooding and downed trees and electrical lines.
Noted Fears, “Sandy struck as the Obama administration and
Congress prepared to lock horns over the year-end ‘fiscal cliff,’
which includes plans to cut the Interior Department’s budget for
refuges by 10%, according to the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge
CARE, a coalition including the National Rifle Association
and Defenders of Wildlife, “argues that the 150-million-acre refuge
system cannot absorb another cut,” Fears summarized. “More than 550
refuges, with 700 species of birds, 200 species of fish, and 200
species of mammals, get by on about $3.24 per acre.”
While familiar birds fled, “bird enthusiasts rushed outdoors
as soon as possible to scan the skies for birds who usually don’t
visit these parts,” reported Sinead Carew of Planet Ark. “Because
Sandy combined a hurricane from the south and winter winds from the
north, it brought in a more peculiar group of birds than usual.”
“This was a storm that mixed species you don’t usually see
together,” elaborated Andrew Farnsworth of the Cornell University
Laboratory of Ornithology. Farnsworth mentioned sightings of a
red-billed tropicbird from the Caribbean, and of Ross’s gull native
to the Arctic in upstate New York and southern Ontario.