World O’ Words: Hemerophiles, and a new era of synanthropization

Barry Coulter is Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman

They say if we can keep up our lock-down, self-isolating ways for another 30 years, the oceans of Earth will return to their former pristine state, and all the sea-dwelling creatures will prosper. By that time, all the plastic currently contaminating them will have washed up on the beaches. In 30 years, before the beaches can re-open for human pleasure-seeking, all the sunbathers, surfers and swimmers will have to spend time picking up all this plastic and putting it in giant recycling bins. The plastic will then be turned into patio furniture and vinyl LPs.

This was the beautiful daydream I had yesterday, staring out my window as the deer roamed in and out of my yard. Deer update: The white tails and the mule deer are generally getting along, but the mules will always, eventually drive the white tails out, to keep the space for themselves. An interesting place to observe the behaviours of Family Cervidae, my yard is.

Speaking of the creatures in my yard and the sea, the current pandemic conditions are proving to be a boon for wildlife all over the world. Lions are reported sleeping on the roads in locked down South Africa. Great tribes of monkeys are hanging out in Thailand neighborhoods. Coyotes are wandering through the deserted streets of San Francisco.

No one wants to suggest that humanity’s impact on wildlife is reduced so much that a rewilding of the planet is underway. But if it’s too soon to predict an endangered species baby boom, I can confidently predict the Covidian Age will bring a major boom in the hemerophiles. You thought Cranbrook had a large urban deer population? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

That’s our word of the week: Hemerophile. Out of the great increase of new words popping up, it seems as good a word as any.

Animals — and plants — that comfortably adjust to the changes humans make in those animals’ environments are called hemerophile. Hemerophiles not only adjust, over the ages they can prosper in the vicinity of humans, while at the same time remaining stubbornly undomesticatable. The above mentioned coyotes, for example, seem to do quite well within the city limits of Cranbrook or Calgary. London, UK, has an immense population of urban foxes. But another canine, the wolf, is not hemerophilic. In fact, wolves are the opposite, they are hemerophobic. Close proximity to human culture has never been good for Canis Lupus.

The Covidian Age is a great time to be hemerophile. Just think of the raccoons of Toronto. Human activity is so reduced in urban centres that by the time things return to normal, raccoons will be empowered to demand rights for themselves, or seek seats on City Council.

Pigeons, house sparrows, skunks, mice, feral rabbits, crows and ravens are poised to thrive. Perhaps bears will find it easier to establish themselves closer on the fringes of human communities, to take greater advantage of our detritus. It’s likely that other species, that have hitherto been shy and retiring of society, may use this period of reduced human activity to get a foot in the door, so to speak.

We have too many other things to worry about these days — the future prosperity of our small businesses, the shrinkage of our economies, our health care systems and the greater frequency of pandemics, the closeness of our relationships with other humans, the travel plans we’ve made — to give much thought to the increasing synanthropization of our towns, as they say (synanthropes are species that live closely with humans, and have followed them to their immediate surroundings).

But I, for one, seem to have noticed an uptick in deer activity in my downtown neighbourhood. Got a feeling it’s here to stay.

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