Bright Lights, Big Predators
Posted by Richard Conniff on December 19, 2015
My latest for The New York Times:
IT was tea break one afternoon this past May, in a business park in Mumbai, one of the world’s most crowded cities. The neighborhood was chockablock with new 35-story skyscrapers adorned with Greek temples on top. On the seventh-floor deck of one building, 20-something techies took turns playing foosball and studying the wooded hillside in back through a brass ship captain’s spyglass.
They were looking at a leopard, also on tea break, up a favorite tree where it goes to loaf many afternoons around 4:30. That is, it was a wild leopard living unfenced and apparently well fed in the middle of the city, on a dwindling forest patch roughly the size of Central Park between 59th and 71st Streets. When I hiked the hillside the next day, I found a massive slum just on the other side, heavy construction equipment nibbling at the far end, and a developer’s private helipad up top. And yet the leopard seemed to have mastered the art of avoiding people, going out by night to pick off dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, rats and other camp followers of human civilization.
Welcome to the future of urban living. Predators are turning up in cities everywhere, and living among us mostly without incident. Big, scary predators, at that. Wolves now live next door to Rome’s main airport, and around Hadrian’s Villa, just outside the city. A mountain lion roams the Hollywood Hills and has his own Facebook page. Coyotes have turned all of Chicago into their territory. Great white sharks, attracted by …
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