Animals of Gotham

When people think about New York City, the image of wildlife doesn’t follow. On the contrary, we think of a densely built up urban setting. Wildlife is something we find somewhere else. Although the city has some magnificent parks and is surrounded by water, with well over 500 miles of coastline, most do not readily associate those geographic features with a diversity of organisms. Pigeons? Yes. Squirrels? Sure. Rats? Millions of them, perhaps more than the city’s human population, but that’s about it, right? Wrong.

Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs were a natural paradise when first encountered by the Dutch in the early 1600’s. There was an abundance of species impossible to imagine today. Bears, wolves, and mountain lion were here in healthy numbers at the top of the chain, with a great diversity of species below. In the rivers, the Sound and the ocean, there was abundant food to help sustain the growing city for a few hundred years. For example, New York was famous for its oysters, which were a primary source of protein here until the mid 19th century. They used to be given out free in taverns to entice you in to drink their grog.

But what about today?