Out of their natural environment

An humans started to travel, animals have "hopped aboard" and settled in new habitats


Friday, 22 November 2019, 15:07


I like to have questions from readers, and will try to answer them providing they are not veterinary ones, but a recent statement surprised me when a lady said: "My neighbours think I am mad and seeing things. Please convince me I am not. I have seen raccoons in America but I am sure I saw two in my garden."

I assured her it was probably not an illusion as I have observed them here in Spain from time to time, indeed one ran in front of our car not so long ago. They are indigenous to America but have found their way here. They are not the only animals to have settled here. Animals have a habit of changing their habitat often over surprisingly long distance especially when humans have developed travel modes and animals have "hopped aboard".

Many breeds of dog originate from the Americas. The Labrador came with sailors back in 1800 and fifty years later a travelling circus, so popular at the time, brought the Golden Retriever when some gave birth on tour and the puppies were sold off. The Chihauhau came from Mexico. A small step with no natural borders and the spread across Europe is easy. Those are just a few examples of breeds traceable.

Other animals have found their way across the Atlantic. In 1876 the grey squirrel arrived in Europe, forcing the native red squirrels to take refuge in places like Brownsea Island off the coast of Bournemouth and in the several parks in Amsterdam.

When we lived on Dartmoor I was startled to see a llama in a neighbouring field. When we rented a house on the Coromondel peninsular in New Zealand we once found llamas in the garden. These lovely creatures originate from Peru and live happily in the Andes. Back home in Spain our Labrador Digger startled an alpaca, a smaller relative of the llama, from his resting place and gave chase until called back.

It is not just the Atlantic and other water barriers which have proved a surmountable barrier. Several times we have encountered an Egyptian mongoose here in Spain. These prehistoric looking animals have made their way across the Mediterranean and settled here.

As the world shrinks with the building of tunnels, bridges and human travel with modern devices we can expect more animals to take advantage and gain access to areas not indigenous to them. I should be delighted to hear of readers' experiences; write to or Apartado 254, Álora 29500 Malaga.

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