Technological advancements have provided fantastic tools for learning more about wildlife and their habitats. A great example is the “camera trap". These automated digital cameras snap a picture whenever an animal walks by. Stealthy snapshots are especially valuable for learning about elusive, nocturnal and rare animals.
In 2019, the Conservation Society of California joined the Urban Wildlife Information Network, created by Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, to gather and share data on urban wildlife communities in more than 50 participating cities. Comparing the photos and videos from throughout the network will help us understand differences in species abundance and animal behavior across regions as well as to identify global patterns. This data can be used by city planners, wildlife managers, and researchers to help make cities more wildlife friendly.
Why make cities wildlife friendly? Globally, biodiversity is in decline and many species right here in the San Francisco Bay Area are threatened with extinction. A well balanced urban ecosystem provides clean water, fresh air, disease resistance and natural pest control, among other benefits. Consider our local opossum: Didelphis virginiana. I consider this often misunderstood mammal an unsung hero. The only marsupial in North America, it is also a Lyme’s Disease fighting hero. A single opossum consumes more than 5,000 ticks per season, therefore providing a dead end to the spirochete bacterium that causes Lyme’s in humans and other mammals.
Sure, I prefer to admire these fabulous creatures from a safe distance. I also very much wish for these ancient looking, prehensile tail wielding cuties to have a chance to carry out their public health mission. For opossums and other species to thrive into the future, they will need habitat connectivity, corridors for migration and functional ecosystems. We can take action by reducing the human-wildlife conflict. One easy step is to secure our trash, so that they are not attracted to and harmed by our refuse. Another way we can help is by planning for healthy habitats.
Here in the East Bay Area, our staff and volunteers have established 12 motion activated cameras located in a wide range of urban habitats from the estuary to the hills above the Oakland Zoo. Cameras near the Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline have captured images of a wide range of mammals and birds including foxes, raccoons, rabbits, skunks, geese, crows and herons. Deer, coyotes and wild turkeys predominate the images from cameras in the higher elevations near Anthony Chabot Regional Park. According to the study protocol, the cameras are set to take images for one month at a time in the spring, summer, fall and winter. Now in our third round of collecting local data, we are excited to begin to analyze seasonal patterns as well as pursue questions about why certain species occur more often in certain areas. During school and family programs at Oakland Zoo, participants will be sorting and analyzing thousands of images from these camera traps. What would you like to learn from these candid photographs of our secretive neighbors?