When I first arrived in Shenzhen three years ago, I was amazed at how green the city was. There were trees on every road and no matter how modern and developed the city was, the sensation of being surrounded by nature was always there.
Despite the extremely fast growth of Chinese cities, it is impressive to see how some cities like Shenzhen have carefully planned, designed, developed and maintained a wide range of natural corridors, parks, protected areas, mountains and reservoirs.
For two years, my workplace was located right next to the entrance of a very ambitious project called the Dasha River Ecological Corridor, which aims to protect the Dasha River from its origin to its connection with the sea and has become one of the largest and most beautiful natural corridors in the city. It’s a place where everyone can admire and enjoy an urban oasis of wildlife.
However, designing and maintaining a minimal natural environment is not enough to preserve the species that inhabit the city and its surroundings; there are still some conditions that directly affect the wildlife in the city. These are, of course, related to the growth and development the city is experiencing but also to the measurements taken by local authorities and, in some cases, the attitudes and behavior of citizens.
One of the biggest problems I have found is the number of feral cats wandering the streets and the city parks. You can see cats in the mountains and even in protected reservoirs, representing a threat to local wildlife as they lack predators, competition and population control.
Another problem that can be spotted in the city is the extensive usage of pesticides. One of the things I often notice when I visit city parks is the small number of insects that can be seen compared to other cities I have visited internationally. This is due to a strict pest control policy, which does not fully consider the way these practices may affect the complex trophic network that is supposed to be naturally occurring.
It is also common to see supermarkets and street shops selling exotic wildlife, including fish, birds and reptiles. Oftentimes, people will buy these animals as pets for young children who often end up killing them or, even worse from an environmental perspective, releasing them back into nature.
This is a common practice, and it might feel like the right thing to do for most people. However, the ecological impact of releasing an animal into a completely alien ecosystem can be disastrous for both the released animal and the environment. It is known that reintroduced animals can bring with them new pathogens that the environment would not be able to resist. Furthermore, some of these animals do not have natural predators that would keep their numbers in check, which can lead to uncontrolled population growth and a reduction of local species via competition, causing a devastating impact on the ecosystem.
Last but not least, we need to reconsider the common practice of feeding animals in their natural environment. Throwing food to fish, birds, or turtles can cause great harm to our local species by changing their behavior and feeding habits and, in worst cases, even killing them.
It’s important to understand that processed foods like potato chips and even bread contain chemicals and substances that animals are not used to, and these can cause digestive problems and, occasionally, even death. Also, animals that are used to being fed would often congregate around feeding spots, leading to disruption of their natural behavior.
Despite the recent efforts by authorities to try and preserve natural environments across cities, there are no environmental education programs that reach citizens citywide. It is important to develop a deeper appreciation of the natural environment where animals are not seen as objects to preserve simply to amuse the local population. It is all too common to see citizens harm local flora and fauna, often due to ignorance rather than malice. We need to start generating consciousness among citizens – starting with students – who will take this knowledge to their homes and will create a positive impact in the city for future generations.
Isaac Cohen holds a BS in Biology, Ed.S Pedagogy and M.S Continental Hydrobiological Resources and is based in Shenzhen.
Follow @cohenwildlife on Instagram to see more wildlife photography.
[All images courtesy of Isaac Cohen]