Yale University Press, 2013
When most people think about creating backyard habitat, they probably imagine an almost Disneyfied picture of inter-species harmony and cooperation. The reality is much messier. On the one hand, the human desire to live with animals is strong; that’s why we have pets. On the other, we would like the boundaries to be distinct.
This messiness is what Barilla explores. So you want to create a backyard that’s welcoming to squirrels. What about when they’re eating your peaches? What about when rats and opossums come into this big hollow tree that’s warm and full of great nooks and crannies? You want animals close, but not too close.
Barilla looks at many different cities and how they’re coping with the encroachment of supposedly wild animals. Vervet monkeys in Dania, FL; rhesus macaques in New Delhi, India; black bears in Northampton, MA; and tamarins in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dealing with the animals is hindered by many factors. The tamarins of Rio are an invasive pest where they are — but endangered in their home range. It would seem simple to just capture them in Rio and transport them to their home range. But they’re separated by thousands of miles. Have the urban tamarins picked up new parasites or diseases that will affect the wilderness tamarins? How has their genotype altered in response to city living over the generations? Can they still survive in the wilderness? One of the reasons they do so well is the prevalence of jackfruit trees, which are themselves an invasive species.
Another reason they do so well is because people feed them. Barilla feeds a vervet monkey in Florida, and describes the experience in great detail. It’s much different than putting out a feeder for birds, or kibble for a dog. He feels a transcendent connection to the wild, to the “us and not us” of a primate.
Barilla’s depiction of his personal experiences in his research is one of the strengths of the book. I wish he’d taken a little more time to talk about the process of building a backyard habitat, but there are plenty of books on that subject. This book, as I said, explores the messier territory. The animals we invite into our backyards have their own agency, their own desires, which do not always neatly align with ours.
Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.