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LIMINAL ANIMALS: What Do Humans Owe to Wildlife in Urban Spaces?

Respecting wild animals as co-citizens of human communities requires us to consider and validate their perspectives, and to clearly define our responsibilities to them.

ALYSON FORTOWSKY: As many humans discuss how to cultivate a new and better “normal” after this pandemic, the needs, rights, and preferences of animals in urban spaces need to be considered as a part of our collective conversation. Wildlife is surprising us by demonstrating preferences for more space in the world’s cities. With this better understanding of wild animals’ preferred habits, humans have an opportunity to meaningfully incorporate animals’ rights and needs into municipal policies and decisions. Respecting wild animals as co-citizens of our communities requires humans to consider and validate animals’ perspectives, and to clearly define humans’ responsibilities to other species…

In their book Zoopolis, Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka use a citizenship rights framework to discuss how humans should treat different animal species in our societies. They assert that humans owe fair and equitable accommodations to all animals, whether or not a given animal population is regarded as citizens. Donaldson and Kymlicka argue that different expectations and responsibilities are appropriate for different species based on the species’ proximity to and dependency on humans. Urban wildlife species, which have limited or severely curtailed options to live outside of cities, deserve particular consideration because often they depend on humans for food. (Pigeons and squirrels are two examples of urban species that depend heavily on humans to survive.)

Other animals, such as coyotes and foxes, have little choice but to coexist with humans because our settlements have subsumed much of their territories. According to Donaldson and Kymlicka, not only should humans respect wild animals’ universal rights (by not killing them, for example), but also should better accommodate these animals by acknowledging that they are not obliged to cooperate with humans or demonstrate human-like self control. Donaldson and Kymlicka advocate for humans to meaningfully consider animals’ interests, including those of wildlife, as part of how we organize our communities…

Animals in urban areas are surprising us by venturing onto humans’ empty streets. But these animals, while largely invisible to human eyes, have always been present. Instead of only focusing on urban wildlife when we seek to control or kill them, humans have an obligation to consider the needs, rights, and preferences of all animals. Changing our mindsets by considering animals’ universal rights and citizenship rights means encouraging animals to move freely while simultaneously limiting the potential for serious, fatal conflicts. Humans will have an unprecedented chance to create a new “normal” when this pandemic ends. Let’s ensure that welcoming wildlife into urban spaces becomes an integral part of that new reality. SOURCE…

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