This past fall, two hundred people gathered at The Explorer’s Club in New York City. The building was once a clubhouse for famed naturalists and explorers. Now it’s an archive of ephemera and rarities from pioneering expeditions around the globe. But this latest gathering was held to celebrate the first biological census of its kind –an effort to count all of the squirrels in New York City’s Central Park. Squirrels were purposefully introduced into our cities in the 1800s, and when their population exploded, we lost track of how many there are.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety nine percent, invisible, I'm roman Mars this Four two hundred people gathered at the explorers Club in New York City, the bill It was once a club house to famed naturalists and explores now, an archive of ephemeral, rarities pioneering expeditions from trucks to the world's tallest mountains, the North Pole and the moon. Willie mammoth tusks frame a fireplace a menace. Polar bear in town knew the landing with clause at the ready and achieve cheetah rumour doom and shot by Teddy Roosevelt sits on a plinth just upstairs Catherine was an honour of a new expedition, one in search not a single animal, but if thousands, those reporter Caitlin sworn to the club. Hosting a biological sensors and eco logic.
A survey so difficult, so complicated, so taxing, but it had never been attempted before and may never be attempted again It is a really big project like now. Don't think We ve ever been involved in a project of this scope in our lives. It's like moving a little a small alarming around this, those Jamie Alan, the census was his idea. And when he started it was a small operation. But now Jamie is merely the Tipp of a vast pyramid of census. Related personnel, including of logistics chief, achieve cartel for a veterinarian, an epidemiologists, especially from the fish and wildlife service and, of course, a web team, and that's just the course, ass below them, are the foot soldiers, the volunteers whom go out into the field and do the actual counting three hundred,
thus volunteers, counting seven hundred hectares honor me or my hundred metre and three thousand plus sheets of paper that we have to its yeah a vast filing system, multiple offices and a tea. Of hundreds of for the sake of answering one question I want to know how many squirrels or in central park squirrels their king squirrels date, October fourteen twenty eight time. Five, twenty six and achieving Sunday evening, following stew, one of their central park, census volunteers around the parks. Northern rock behind for eastern gray squirrels, which is like these world it's? What you'll find it just about any american city? But especially central park, so we need to be on this path. Down. Ok, Well, I'm gonna!
so you're. Not here I ask you the following, as we had after pass over fences and through Tal Brush my days and weeks poison. We're slowly making their way to his designated area. Hector thirty eight there's our plots of land that measure a little less than two and a half acres. Each the job of the senses volunteer is the count all the squirrels they can find within their assigned hectares and only their assigned hectares other. This doesn't stop. I'm getting incredibly excited by every squirrel, who sees all those groups can't count me body. My Hector back see later After every Hector in the park has been surveyed, all the data will get plugged into a wild life counting formula popularized by the great midcentury danish american squirrel Biologists VON Flickr. The formula will account for rules that were double counted and one's no one managed to find, and then
finally spit out a number that the world has been waiting for. The squirrel abundance number Total population of eastern Gray, squirrels in central park give or take at which point you would be totally justified in asking as many do. What precisely is the point, and knowing the squirrel abundance number but they're saying is like your count. Squirrels like squirrels have a specific context in people's minds and its to be ignored. Like its assume, I think that, because of a common. We know everything we need to know about squirrels, but the opposite is true the fact that no one has bothered to do a central park. Squirrel census before together the most basic of day, points about when the most common animals and landscape reveals a kind of societal blind spot. We have regard to squirrels time now we ve taken for granted include the story of where all these
came the squirrels we see in our cities, and towns are so every day so ubiquitous. So just there that is, easy to assume they ve always been there. But the truth is they haven't mid nineteenth century. You could walk through a place at Boston or Philadelphia or minimal and you would not see a single squirrel. This is at hand Benson he's a historian of environmental science at the University of Pennsylvania, and he says this These are the early nineteenth century were effectively scurrilous. These were animals, you could only see if you left the city and then even perhaps the farm maiden and went deep into the woods, and it was only when you went deep into the words that you would have the chance to see something like a squirrel. Invite squirrels, were considered so elusive, the very wealthy liked it them as exotic pets in eighteen,
Fifty six and article in the New York Times described how ones which pet escaped from its his home in Manhattan and when it was discovered in a tree. A crowd of p bull gathered in amazement. Try until her head down eventually Andrew, so large and rowdy, the police had to forcibly disperse it so, how do these eastern gray squirrels these reclusive within creatures make way and are urban spaces for starters. At him they didn't he's not on their own but was so fascinating to me, was to find out that they had been intentionally introduced, the squirrels that I'll take for granted as we want through the park or our way to the gym or the office only there because we put them there. They were done. Bartley brought into cities and fed and sheltered a city that we know how to introduce whirls Buzz Philadelphia in eighteen. Forty seven, like many EAST Coast Cities are the men nineteenth century. It was already
a highly urban environment, people yearned for a taste of the wilderness that this quarrel was seen to embody. They were captured in the wilderness. Brought into the city and placed single tree, almost if they were animals in a menagerie or a zoo retreat it was in the middle of a small public square and it was equipped with wooden shelter and offence. So the squirrels. Stacy from the elements and any would be predators in their little squirrel home a few other cities like Boston, replicated this model and at first the number of squirrels with teenager any Philadelphia started out with only three things moving. The trial run. Only this first trial run it when terribly when I started working on this topic, I thought. Okay, you introduce a few squirrels into an urban park in a few, the you're gonna have thousands of schools no problem, but at the very beginning they were essentially incapable of surviving
The cities of the nineteenth century just didn't, have the kind of large parks and extensive tree cover. We see today when you thought about urban landscapes, very unfriendly to an animal that required trees for food in the class extort book image of a squirrel. It's always clutching acorn and then that's basically true awhile world, requires deciduous not bearing plants such as oak trees, in order to survive without trees. The city had to provide for the squirrels, but the squirrel feed often prove to be either insufficient or nutritionally worth s, so those first squirrels either died off, were killed or were adopted as pets in eighteen. Fifty five reporter the Boston evening transcript described the introduction of squirrels ass quote absurd. And reprehensible experiment, all of which raises a question Why are there now squirrels everywhere in american Citys
think. It's more a model of. If you build it, they will come Gabriel, is a naturalist specializes in animal species that live in urban environments sway. Nature and educate people about the natural world, specifically New York City- and he as that. In the late nineteenth century green spaces, like New York, were undergoing transformation areas. Open land whence multi purpose fields used for everything from cattle grazing to slaughter houses and militia training, we're being and into spaces of leisure and by the seventies city dwellers We're leaving behind small busy squares in favour of large idyllic parks and although they were designed for people, these new, urban away. Just might be the best thing to ever happen. To the eastern grey squirrel, because the parks weren't just big, they were also does
and to mimic the natural world take central park in Prospect Park in New York, for example, both designed by covered vocs and Frederick homestead. They were working with the existing geology and hydrology. They took naturally, existing small ponds or marshy areas and made lakes out of them. They also chose to keep areas, dramatic rocky outcroppings, instead of blasting them away, as has been done with the rest of the city bread, and so they were working with certain natural elements. These natural parks were filled with hedges and lakes and streams, and lots and lots of trees, including to the great fortune of squirrels, everywhere oak trees, red focus very common. Wider goes is common pen oak is very common. There's a lot they corns around everything. A would be squirrel resident, might want or need, and it was in this oak, dotted ACORN strewn landscape in central park in eighteen, seventy seven, but a handful the eastern gray, squirrels were introduced for a second,
a trial run and It was in that landscape that few squaws virtually exploded and population by the turn of the century. What had started as just a few dozen squirrels now numbered in the? actually this around the time that people just start counting, I mean How could you with so many squirrels running around guesses from the high hundreds to over five thousand incense parking beyond, squirrels became is commonplace, this fire hydrants and telephone poles, nor the other new found accessories of the urban landscape and those with approach to urban parkland spread to other cities. So did the idea of populating them with squirrels the eastern gray. Squirrels were introduced again to places like Philip healthy and Boston and West Coast cities like Seattle, oh man, Coover in San Francisco, Easter Grace were also introduced overseas to England,
ITALY and South Africa, and it wasn't just the oak trees in these newly lush environments that were providing sustenance for the squirrels at the time. People can it their moral duty to feed them up and tell that early twentieth century the dominant way of understanding the proper relationship, between humans and animals in the city is is centred on charity is centred on the idea that humans have an obligation. Our ability to create a friendly, welcoming environment for certain kinds of animals to flourish. The ideal city was one that provided a home for good animals in banish the bad. Oh, if you go back even in red, like John James Autobahns account of bird species, he might talk about the blood thirsty ha corridor. Why Ellie Raven and so people used to shoot, hawks and falcons and eagles and other birds of prey, because their predator because they were other animals. People thought oh they're, just mean
as other animals like pigeons and, of course, squirrels were considered peaceful in that they interacted with humans the sight of an under, master animal not only approaching you but effectively. Communicating with you by soliciting food was a sign of its civilized nature. So was only pray, for that you should feed them. Historians will later give these wild animals and the residents who brought them into the city, a name them, more than human community. So they do to create a kind of might have called fantasy world in which every animal that is in the city is living peacefully, with the others at the indulgence of the humans that that run the place thanks to them more than Community model urban squirrels lived large for decades, nuts, trees in humans, feeding them extra food and killing off other predators. They had it made in the case of New Haven,
example. There's even an article that I found that describes in this becoming so obese. They began to fall from the trees as the nineteenth century, led into the twentieth, and this girls were busy spreading out into suburban attics and college campuses. No one stop to wonder if there could be such a thing as too many squirrels but as hard as it is to admit there is now evidence to suggest there might. Actually be too many there is an ongoing attack against without agreements being led by squirrels. Matthew Harbour is an interim. She security experts with twenty years of experience, and he says when it comes to threats to the: U S: power network. Forget terrorism. Forget russian hackers. The case of the utility infrastructure. The humble squirrel that carbon most of it by some estimates? One out of every five power outages in the United States are squirrel related to be part of this.
They really start out with the best of intentions. Squirrels need to build mess and they usually build those nests and trees. They also build anything that looks like a tree like utility poles are transformers and like all rodents, squirrels and size or teeth, never stop growing. So they have to chew to keep them while down they mostly to bark and branches and nuts, but they also to things like power cables. So, inevitably some unlucky squirrel will not through the installation of a power line or step unto exposed wires at the same time and killing the squirrel ensuring the system keep track of all those system. Shorts Matthew runs website called cyber squirrel. One we're here to a website which track or electricity and attacks again, but our great and yes, this is real cyber square,
I'm consists of a big map, marking the largest power outages caused by squirrels and the past thirty years pick a year and you can find hundreds of pin indicating squirrel incidents splain out across the lower forty eight in Canada there's a drop down menu? If you want to see our judges caused by other animals, but don't bother when it comes to Our problems- it's mostly just squirrels, you and give you some examples and squalor related power. Outages, get up now square. Last year, twenty eighteen college in California actually having to cancel plasters, then November of Tuna. Eighteen, a single robbing squirrel knocked out three sub stations and Upstate New York, causing string a power outages for more than twelve thousand people that same month, another squirrels
polling station in Virginia on the day of the presidential election them in December, a squirrel cut the power of an entire shopping mall in South Carolina one week before Christmas, located in Canada I can April by the impact is fifty five thousand people and those are just the big ones in Austin Texas, squirrels worrisome sensible for over four hundred separate outages in twenty fifteen alone, but the greatest rodent, related outrage of all occurred in December of nineteen eighty seven in the last place, you'd ever expected to find in electrocuted squirrel that story and more after
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controlled eighty five percent of the global stock market in surgery like Joe. They were the kings of Wall Street. We with a place to go away so proud to wear out. Why badges without numbers on it and say we work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. But there was also another exchange in town was slowly chipping away at their market share their biggest rival NASDAQ The NASDAQ was an automated exchange that ran on computers. It didn't need floor traders and the traders at the New York Stock Exchange. And it may trades in person by hand hated it, Joe still remembers the glorious day. A rumour began to spread among the four thousand traitors on the floor of the exchange. We start hearing got NASDAQ, just kind of technical glitch and yellow by the time I got from one end to exchange the other minor, but it took about thirty seconds at this, word of mouth adjust flies. Finally, they like
I'll. Take your tape. Scrawling along one of the walls of the exchange lit up with the news, the ticket tape, the Turk took a capricious line across, and we knew there deepest darkest wish had come. True, NASDAQ had failed, it was really a magna. It was a dream and the trading floor, but rocketed I mean you, you could ever destiny. For eighty two minutes on December, ninth nineteen- eighty seven NASDAQ was offline. Losing an estimated twenty million trades We find out that it was a squirrel. A squirrel had shoot through a power line in Connecticut were NASDAQ through its electricity, but it did not affect the new the stock exchange- to the everlasting joy of traders. Like Joseph send you mean Should NASDAQ that squirrel, that's quarrel was Godzilla
Until I saw the New York Stock Exchange that little Sparrow was the man replaced. Eight minutes we would the kings again, then, unfortunately, this guy I paid the ultimate price per hour. You few hours of glory you plan day America squirrels, have also been wreaking havoc overseas in great Britain is gray, squirrels introduced in eighteen. Seventy six quickly began to displace the native red squirrel, driving it too near extinction in the eastern grey squirrel might be cute, but the red squirrel is super cute to Google. It is to love it. And now there is only a few small pockets of red squirrels left in Northern England and Scotland. This, despite a mass of eradication campaign, keep the american invaders out of the scottish Islands in Europe. There are, Chilean invasive species,
but even as american squirrels were taken out, shopping malls and stock exchanges and invade, in foreign countries. The very things that allowed them to proliferate in the first place were slowly being taken away. Starting the men twins, century, a colleges, wildlife managers and park officials, started to reexamine America's approach to wildlife. They began to argue that predators like hyades and hawks should no longer be hunted for the sake of a more than human community. That search it replaced with a really different by this ecological view, in which we understand those relationships of predation as essential to the ecosystem as a whole. In this ecological model. The ideal environs, it was no longer one that corresponded to notions of civilized forces, uncivilized species, but one in which variety of species, predator and pray alike, maintained a national popular. Balance with only minimal human intervention. It took a few dick
it's for this idea to spread from the national parks into the cities, but by the redtail hawk, came back of its own accord. Other. The predators which, for any ecologically minded naturalist like Gabriel Willow, is a wonderful thing activity, are coming back on their own, we're not bringing them back, Evans, Ravens or investing in New York City within the last fifteen years. We did not reintroduce them. The redtail hawk came back of its own accord. Others she's we intentionally reintroduce like Paragon Falcons and their thriving New York City has the highest population density of Paragon Falcons in the world. Asked about the death of a few squirrels seems like a small price to pay in exchange for his new found biodiversity, hey, there's no shortage of webcams set out by people who have discovered a hawks nest outside their twelve floor apart. Window and well. We ve been busy welcoming the squirrels predators back into our cities. We ve also begun to finally withdraw our charity. I think emulation
check out. Squirrels they're, pretty cool, I'm proscribed team squirrel. You know, I just don't think we need to be feeding them, gave real and other natural is think, feeding squirrels has no place in the new ecological model providing Red and other unnatural foods can lead to a variety of health problems and act meaning squirrels hand, feeding can make them overly dependent on humans and possibly prone to unstable population boom None of which is ultimately good for the squirrels or the larger environment, which is why one in forty two years after welcoming squirrels into the fold of our more than human Community New York City, is done given handouts March. First. Nineteen and the time is father. Five welcomed palmprints recreation. There this pause winter, the New York City Parks Department, held a hearing for proposed rule change that would make it
you go to feed any wild animal in the park. Serious tended solicit comments regarding whose rule changes these comments will become part of the public record. We take me: a real well. I was there too, although he did go down for the way he thought it would. I didn't really expect it to be quite a skewed as it was in terms of almost everybody there was speaking against. The regulations is criminal act that runs against the morals and rules of a civilised society is closing words like they do in the wild, except for one thing, the browser. I don't know that I've income that many squirrel and pigeon feeding fans in one place before and although they greed. The animals should be eating healthy food. They were not buying into the ecological model. Here the parts
our not nature there, an artificial situation. We why're, you can't change when people express concern but certain animals in certain parks might starve. Gabriel tried to stand up for the hands off approach. The problem, of them. Starving due to lack of food is because there is a higher population, because the being fed its essence is a cycle so, but the applause was tepid. Thank you it was not as partly received as founder and director of the Wild bird fund. She was also against meeting The proposed amendment she was actually booed. I'm sorry. I ran over exactly what effect the blanket ban would have and wildlife populations is unclear, but regardless of the ecological impact, the biggest take away from the hearing was that the car some of the more than human community that was you're going strong I'm here today as
voice for New York Cities Nonhuman residence because I see what's happening. To our wildlife neighbours as really truly tragic, the feeling that these animals are fellow citizens and should be treated with the same consideration has never. Play gone away. It is not just about what we want is about weapons all of the other than human beings in our parks want to, and they are constituents of New York City people live to feed the animals Park on any park bench in any city, you'll see people throwing crumbs to the birds and the birds approaching for more. It's one way, we feel a connection to nature, for just a moment, both human and animal are doing something together that shared experience between species, that's what the people The hearing didn't want taken away. Gabriel. Willow also believes that there is a value in connecting with these animals, but he sees
as a reason not to feed them. I think people really crave. Direct interaction in connection with nature, and so what I was saying when I spoke was like look please go to the park. Observe wildlife feel that connection you don't need to touch them, you don't need to pet them. You'll need to hold them. You don't need to feed them like it. Firstly, more interesting, more valuable to stand back and see an animal exhibiting, a more natural behaviour watch, a squirrel long enough and you'll see it play tricks. Another squirrels. If a squirrel carrying a corn believes its being watched, it will dig a hole, pantomime, putting the acorn and Paul and then cover the whole backup, although here being the real a coordinates mouth just to throw its fellow squirrels off the scent Squirrels have been seen carefully, organizing their acorns by size and shape before they bury them. Biology
believe it's in the demonic device that helps the squirrels remember what they buried, where they are specific call when they see a predator. So if you learn a little bit of squirrel language like I know, no the hot car. So if I hear that I'll look up and often see a hawk so further into just sort of allows to be there but go about their day to day. Life is so much more powerful for me there's more than one way to connect to the animals with whom they share our cities, whether its listening to keeping of coyotes and then an overnight setting up a webcam for the hockins. But he thinks he does understand in all the schools in Central Park in March, Jamie Alan and the other team members of the squirrel census then, gathering their data plan to reveal the squirrel abundance in June at inventions as he doesn't know how many squirrels there are in central park, but he see does understand why
Everyone is so eager to find out in one of the appeal from a squirrel census is just that same appeal that has existed since the eighteen. Fifty myths, which is its clear to people, that the world around them is not only coveted by humans it is this multi species place, and I think, there is a need and a desire there to know something about your neighbors, the senses, is a form of appreciation away. Recognising that the squirrels are there and that in itself is beautiful Nothing. And presented visible was produced this week by Caitlin Swell J and edited by Jo Rosenberg makes intact production by refusing Muse I shall now there's no music in this episode was composed by Jenny, common resource. John you failed and they query
getting mingle. Is the Senor producer, Kirkwall studies, the digital director. There s a team include senior editor Delaney Hall, a reach, often Emily. Gerald Turn. Massa Vivian leaves of the classic her and me Roman, Mars social links this week to Susan Kirby in Andrew Christopher, whose interviews we did not get to include in the episode, but without whose help we could not, have made this story for the squirrel sensors, following the announcement of the squirrel abundance number. There will be a squirrel mass, great ball and Dance Party held at the explore Club in New York City for details check out the squirrel senses dad come in the coming weeks. We are projects. Ninety one point: seven K, L W in San Francisco in produced on radio row in beautiful Downtown Oakland California
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.