City Animals

Frances Vandervoort
1991 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute


In this project, students will identify some of the most important native and introduced species of animals in the United States, describe how animal populations of cities have changed over time, outline the benefits and problems associated with animals of cities, and identify the government agencies that deal with animal-related problems. This activity, which is appropriate for all high school grade levels, can be conducted over a period of two to three weeks. Since much of it is independent study, its completion need not be tied directly to classroom activities. It is an appropriate activity to use in conjunction with studies of taxonomy, population, ecology, and land use.


Animals of many kinds are important parts of a city's environment. From sparrows to house cats to cockroaches, animals provide us with amusement and companionship, or fill us with disgust. They inhabit our trees and lawns, scurry about our sewers, and fly through our too often polluted skies. To understand them is to better understand ourselves. Although many of them would survive without us and, in many cases, even in spite of us, their fate is often tied to that of our own. The activities here will help students understand the role of city animals in their environment.


  1. Students, working in small groups, will use the library, museum, or local academy of sciences to find answers to such questions as:

    • What kind of animals lived in your area 10,000 years ago? 1 million or more years ago?
    • What kind of animals did the first settlers find in your area? What kind of animals did the native Americans make use of in your area?
    • How has human activity affected the populations of native animals in your city? Are there animals that are more common now than they were 200 years ago? Less common?
    • What are "alien" or "introduced species" of animals? Have they affected the environment of your city? Explain.
    • What are some beneficial wild animals in your city? How do they help the urban environment?
    • How can your city be made more attractive to beneficial wild animals?

  2. Conduct as many of the following interviews as possible:

    • Visit or talk with an employee of the local animal control department. Learn how the animals in the animal control shelter (pound) are collected and cared for. What does it cost to operate the dog pound? What are some of the more unusual animals the department has to deal with?
    • Visit or talk with an employee of the local humane society. How does the operation of a humane society differ from the operation of a city animal control shelter?
    • Visit a large pet shop. Talk with the shop owner or manager about the shop's operation. Find the answers to such questions as:
      • -Are pet sales increasing?
      • -What are the most popular kinds of pets?
      • -Where do most animals the shop sells come from?
      • -Are people who purchase a pet required to give it a good home?
    • Interview a veterinarian. Learn whether his business has been increasing. Find out whether most people who have pets have had them sterilized (neutered).
    • Interview an employee of an exterminating company. Find out what kind of insect and rodent pests are most common in your city, whether new kinds of pests ever are found. What are the most effective ways of combatting these pests?
    • Obtain information from the local board of health about rat and other animal bites. What are some diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans? Find out how the board of health addresses problems associated with animal populations.
    • Interview community residents. What are their attitudes toward problems caused by animals?

Student groups will give an oral presentation, illustrated with a poster or other visual materials, about city animals. In addition, students should be asked to turn in a brief written summary of their own portion of the assignment for grading.


Garber, Steven D. The Urban Naturalist. New York: Wiley. 1987.

Hersey, John. The Natural History of New York City.

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