Nautilus

This Is Urban Wildlife Biology

We are at the midpoint of our journey. Seth twists the key, turning the truck ignition off, and we step out and walk the few remaining feet to Tong’s Tiki Hut. The aroma of cooked rice wafts toward us. We take our seats underneath yellowed mood lighting. Baskets of faded palm fronds and plastic gulls dangle from a ceiling covered in fishnet cordage. A brightly colored totem pole in the corner confronts us, three stacked heads summoning up monsters from otherworldly shores. The faces gaze, eyes wide, issuing a warning: this is not your island. My attention drifts toward a wall painted with a crystalline lagoon, encircled by a crescent of peach sand. A humming air conditioner creates a slight breeze.

We are not in Fiji. We are west of Chicago. We are on an adventure of sorts. How exotic is up for debate. But it cannot be denied that we are eating lunch under palm fronds and a large fish net.

Courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo Urban Wildlife Institute

My companion is Seth Magle, a wildlife ecologist at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute (UWI). Founded in 2008, UWI has accomplished a great deal in a short period of time. Seth is the second director, not far removed from a doctorate that had him studying black-tailed prairie dog colonies in suburban Denver. When he took the position at the zoo, he quickly got to work on an innovative and long-term research project that aims to monitor and provide a comprehensive inventory of urban wildlife in Chicago. “We all live in an ecosystem; we just don’t know it,” Seth tells me as he scans the noodle entrées. “When it comes to urban areas,” he adds, scratching at his sand-colored beard, “people have an ecological blind spot.”

Seth and his colleagues are trying to eliminate that blind spot. The Urban Biodiversity Monitoring Project, which he leads, is the largest and most systematic attempt to collect information about urban wildlife in the world. The project relies on approximately 120 motion-triggered There is also the occasional two-legged critter. Despite durable casings and camera locks, Seth has lost a few cameras to these two-leggeds. The price of science.

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