Cities are growing at a faster rate than any other habitat on Earth. They may seem an unlikely place for animals to thrive, but for the bold this is a world of surprising opportunity. Leopards prowl the streets of Mumbai, peregrine falcons hunt amongst New York’s skyscrapers and a million starlings perform spectacular aerial dances over Rome. We welcome some creatures into our cities; in Jodhpur langurs are revered as religious deities and in Harar locals live in harmony with wild hyenas. Many animals, however, are struggling to cope in the urban jungle. As the architects of this environment will we choose to build cities that create a home for both us and for wildlife?

Key Characters in Cities

Leopards; Mumbai, India

  • Mumbai has over 20 million people, but also a thriving population of leopards with the highest concentration of these cats anywhere on the planet.
  • Using the latest technology – infrared camera traps and thermal cameras, the team captured never seen before behaviour of Mumbai leopards using the cover of city noise and their stealth to hunt abundant domesticated animals, brought in to the city by man.
  • Leopards have attacked almost two hundred people in Mumbai the last twenty-five years.

Peregrine Falcons; New York, USA

It took nine months just to get permission for the team to film from the rooftops of skyscrapers and from a helicopter in the heart of New York City. The effort paid off and for the first time the team were able to capture a sequence of successful hunting behaviour. This was also the first time that anyone has filmed aerials of the fastest bird in the world dropping from a height at speeds of over 300kph.

  • A pair of spotted hyenas search for scraps of food on the streets of Harar in Ethiopia
  • New York City has the highest concentration of nesting Peregrines in the world, they have made their homes in the city’s skyscrapers which perform the role of cliff edges, the traditional habitat for Peregrine Falcons.
  • City living can be advantageous for these well adapted birds, they are able to soar over the city with very little effort taking advantage of the updrafts from buildings and the warm air rising from the metal and glass for efficient flight.
  • Pigeons reside in the city all year round, a plentiful food source for the peregrines which means they do not need to migrate.
  • For this shoot, the Planet EarthII crew were helped by expert conservation biologists and documented their important work monitoring the local population of Peregrines.

Hyenas; Harar, Ethiopia

The filming team used the latest 4K low-light cameras. At times they were surrounded by over 100 fighting hyenas and at other times they were astonished at seeing small cats swipe at hyenas competing over scraps of meat. The difference in attitude between these hyenas inside and outside of the city walls is astounding.

  • Two hyena clans roam into the streets of Harar, Ethiopia, every night, and they have done so for the last 400 years. The clans fight outside the town to assess which is dominant in the city where they gain access to the bones left on the streets by the city’s butchers.
  • Spotted hyenas are the second largest land predator in Africa after the lion and throughout their range they are feared for their raids on towns where they have been known to pick off small children. But the inhabitants of Harar have decided to invite them in, believing that they consume the evil spirits every time they cackle. One family even chooses to hand feed these wild animals

Filming Locations

Cities

  1. Catfish hunting pigeons - Albi, France
  2. Starling murmurations - Rome, Italy
  3. Turtle hatchlings - Barbados
  4. City lights - Hong Kong
  5. Peregrine falcons - New York, USA
  6. Raccoons - Toronto, Canada
  7. Hyenas - Harar, Ethiopia
  8. Avatar city - Singapore
  9. Macaques - Jaipur, India
  10. Leopards - Mumbai, India
  11. Langurs - Jodpur, India
  12. Bower birds - Townsville, Australia

The Facts

  • The urban environment is the newest and fastest growing habitat on our planet. In the next decade, the urban environment is predicted to grow by nearly thirty percent.
  • This man made environment is far brighter, louder and busier than anywhere in the natural world.
  • Four billion people, more than half of the human population, now live in the urban environment, all animals that come here will have to overcome their fear of man.
  • It is in the urban environment that animals have to contend with the greatest change that is happening to the surface of our planet, but for the bold, this new world offers fresh territory to expand into.