The wolves have entered Paris

Hundreds of species have acclimatized to modern conurbations. What drives animals to live in cities?? Beyond the accelerated degradation of nature, we must rethink the very notion of wildness, to invent a ethics of asymmetric relationships.

Leopards that chase stray dogs in the streets of New Delhi at night, sloths that invite themselves into public and private gardens in Manaus, large fruit-eating bats that settle in Tel Aviv enjoying the fruits of the ficus trees: the list is long of these famous animals wild who frequent our cities.

Several hundred species have acclimatized to this new ecosystem that is the large modern conurbations. If an isolated animal delights us, especially if it is cute, reintroducing something marvelous into an overly predictable urban fabric, their proliferation can cause serious disruption. The friendly squirrel can inspire local residents to read if it comes to multiply.

The causes of animal exodus

Most initiatives are wasted effort, from the most gentle (displacement) to the most violent (extermination), including attempts to enforce zoning, with the help of electric fences or repellents, whether synthetic or natural (such as lynx urine for deer). As long as they provide shelter and cover, animals avoid obstacles, get used to noises and smells, compensate for losses, or even make way for another species that is more seasoned, more cunning, more aggressive, more prolific. Cohabitation seems inevitable, and Jolle Zask invites us to change perspective.

But what drives animals to leave the nature to go live in town? Well, quite simply the accelerated degradation of the nature. Deforestation and land consolidation, intensive hunting, agricultural pollution make non-urban spaces less and less hospitable. Just think of the plains of Beauce or Picardy in winter. Converselythe spaces inhabited by man, from large towns to large cities, see food and water converge, greening projects multiply, offer with their neglect, their urban wastelands, their modern buildings, housing opportunities reinforced by the absence of hunting , or even the presence of people distributing food.

The air quality is sometimes even better there. In drains, landfills, on roofs and facades, in gardens and parks, animals find shelter and food. Those who venture there and acclimatize themselves find a place in this new kind of biotope and too bad for what the neighbors think. Besides, are they the first? The rat, the crow, the cockroach preceded them. In a world where the human species and its livestock drain an increasing fraction of natural resources, the best thing is to put up with it.

The animality in question

The phenomenon does not only disrupt the lawns of public gardens; it first shakes up our mental patterns. What is nature? The wild? Thus, alongside the apparently simple categories of the animal savagewhich lives in a space not or little influenced by human activity, the animal domestic income (cows, pigs, chickens), animals familiar that we happen to love more than our neighbor, we must make room for new categories.

The animal introductory Or opportunisticterms that the author prefers that of commensal, lives in anthropized ecosystems without being invited there. There is also the animal fr, resulting from domestication, but returned to a semi-wild state, like Corsican cows. These terms are not intended to qualify a given species, since an animal like the fox, showing a great capacity for adaptation, can be wild or commensal depending on needs and since wild animals demonstrate that there is life after domestication. The very notion of savage becomes subject to caution.

No fixed categories, therefore, but a continuum of situations which invites us to rethink our relationship to animality and, more broadly, to nature. The categories resulting from European modernity, particularly during its deployment in North America, which make wilderness and wild the antitheses of the civilizationeither infernal and chaotic, or sublime and regenerative, no longer reflect reality.

In this, the author's reflections follow in the footsteps of William Cronon. There wilderness is a myth obscuring the perception of permanent interactions between human dynamics and those of other species, plant, animal, fungal, bacterial, viral, etc.

Dealing with our relationship with animals and more broadly with living things puts us at risk of anthropocentrism. This is also the case when, in a laudable concern for cohabitation, we assign spaces to animals natural protected people that they are quick to leave to go trash or raid our gardens. The opposite risk, however, would be to give up thinking about animals and animality. As Jolle Zask writes,

a certain dose of anthropocentrism is inevitable: our point of view necessarily depends on the representations we form of the world in which we live. The problem is therefore not to access an unbiased point of view, by definition inaccessible, but to transform the way in which we represent the world. (pg. 185)

To do this, Jolle Zask, rather than the term cohabitation (which may suggest that we are about to open our fridge to raccoons), uses the term neighborhood. This evokes the search for a modus vivendi in semi-shared spaces, where everyone keeps their own home. This means not a total and fusional understanding, but a partial understanding of the dynamics of each person. A middle ground between total anthropomorphism and inaccessible otherness, which allows us to define a ethics of asymmetric relationships (p. 167).

The city against the city

More fundamentally, the failures in terms of assigning animals echo the social and anthropological critiques of the city and its inadequacy for the animals for whom and by whom it was designed: humans. In short, the other animals that collide with urban logic also speak to us about ourselves. The Cape penguins that nest in sewer vents evoke the embezzlement of which street furniture is the subject.

The presence of wild beasts in cities is therefore a lever for rethinking our lifestyles and the design of the spaces of our lives, using concepts that have made it possible to describe the general functioning of nature. (pg. 205)

While city is a damning project too often thought from above, the quote according to Aristotle is the community of happy life, that is to say whose end is a perfect and independent life. By thwarting urban planning, by forcing us into the neighborhood, the animals in the city invite us to rediscover the meaning of the city. Aristotle also knew very well, unlike Descartes, that animals are not machines and that humans are political zonea civic animal.

In this quest for neighborhood, we can rely on the already old critiques of the industrial and functionalist city, such as the work of the Scottish architect Patrick Geddes who refused to oppose the city and its surrounding space and who in 1920 laid down the principles of Tel -Aviv aiming to reconcile social and ecological dynamics.

The intrusion of wild animals into the city was perhaps a pretext to question industrializing anthropology and its urban planning translation. Why not? The essay is pleasant to read, illustrated by very fascinating anecdotes. I was less convinced by the two central chapters, based on an exegesis of the myth of Noah. Perhaps, for the author, it was a question of responding to the detractors of the Judo-Christian traditions where, according to them, lies the germ which, as it grew, led straight to the destruction of nature (p. 149), thesis which goes back GP Marsh.

The problem is that the Bible is a collection of very heterogeneous, even contradictory, books reflecting internal controversies, probably collected in Egypt in the IIe century BC at the request of the Greco-Macdonian dynasty. By choosing this or that extract, good executors can make it mean anything, and they have not held back. From then on, the grafting of these two chapters does not take place and they seem to me unnecessary to the general economy of the work. But that in no way prevents you from reading the book.!