It’s already a strange day when the entirety of Twitter starts rooting for a raccoon. It’s even stranger when said raccoon manages to scale a 25-story tower in St. Paul. The online celebration when the little guy finally reached the roof, where food and a rescue team awaited, was warranted.
A lot of people wondered how the raccoon made it. Some asked why it was there in the first place. The answers only raise more questions about urban development and its effect on wildlife.
By 2030, a measly 12 years away, about two-thirds of the Earth’s projected 8.5 billion people will live in urban areas. We’re already used to pigeons and rats, but other species have already started to adapt to city life, just like our valiant raccoon. And climbing St. Paul’s UBS Tower is just the beginning. Coyotes are standing on bars in New York City. Cougars roam around Hollywood at night. Pythons slither into Miami. Some wildlife isn’t so wild, anymore.
Why Did a Raccoon Climb This Skyscraper?
Back to our furry friend up north. Raccoons are already prime candidates for high rise living because they’re used to raising their young in tall treetops. Their long fingers and strong claws are primed for climbing, but in this case, the raccoon was likely trapped with nowhere to go but up, as opposed to protecting its babies. Minnesotan raccoons have been known to climb buildings to raid pigeon nests for food, and this one got stuck doing it. If no one had been waiting at the top with cat food and a cage, the raccoon would likely have starved to death.
There are positives to animal urbanization. There are fewer natural predators in concrete jungles and plenty of food sources. But there’s also less space for them to live and lots of cars, which leads to lots of roadkill](https://phys.org/news/2017-04-animals-roadkill.html). So species adaptation has taught old dogs (and birds, and coyotes, and insects) new tricks, like bullfinches in urban Barbados that have become better at problem-solving than their forest-dwelling peers.
Evolution could be a factor, but it’s more likely that animals in cities are just undergoing a crash course in survival. You live, you learn, and if you don’t? Well, humans are responsible for the fastest-ever extinction rate.
More Species, More Problems
Overall, human urbanization is bad news for biodiversity. Right now, cities take up 3 percent of the Earth’s surface, and that number is projected to rise alongside population growth. Habitats will disappear and species who can’t keep up will, too.
But some animals will actually thrive, besides raccoons who love a good trash can. Certain species have evolved to live alongside humans, including bed bugs, German cockroaches, mice, and rats. So, in other words, pests. Even worse, species like bed bugs are actually gaining in numbers, because they’re evolving to the point where they can resist insecticide.
Crows and doves are also projected to increase their numbers. So while some species will go extinct, others will adapt quite nicely. Our friendly neighborhood raccoon has been reintroduced to a mystery location somewhere outside St. Paul, but most of his trash-loving peers will remain — and probably reproduce. So keep an eye on your high-rise window ledge.
Correction 6/18/18: In the original version of this article, it was stated that the raccoon climbed the USB tower in Minneapolis, when, in fact, the tower was in St. Paul. This article has been edited to reflect that fact.