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Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 46 Understanding Slums Through Local Wildlife Habitats

October 5, 2014
from PEI Department of Agriculture & Forestry

from PEI Department of Agriculture & Forestry

The first Monday in October is recognized as World Habitat Day by the United Nations. Now while this day is less focused on wildlife habitat and more focused on human beings, we can use the first to help our young students understand the second.

In 2014 the theme for World Habitat Day is “Voices from Slums” and the goal is to give recognition and a voice to slum dwellers for improving living conditions in these areas.

When speaking in these terms, I see a “slum” as an area that is meant to be habitat but is lacking enough of the key ingredients for making it a healthy habitat. Habitat in elementary biological terms is an area made up of four key factors, Food, Water, Shelter and Space.

A slum has limited access to all of these key factors. Socio-economic conditions tend to create a situation where the population density outweighs sanitation. Infectious diseases, unhealthy drinking water, a lack of food, poor living conditions all result.

I applaud the UN for bringing more recognition to slums as for generations society deemed the best way to deal with these areas was to pretend they did not exist, even in the middle of our largest cities.

It may be hard for our students to understand the plight and living arrangements of people in Dharavi (Mumbai) without movies such as Slumdog Millionaire or why the African Ebola outbreak can be contained in North America or Europe but not the slum conditions of many villages where it is hard to contain.

So this is where I make the connection to what I typically write about in this blog space.

Back to the needs of living things. Food, Water, Shelter and Space. If just one of those elements is in decline then it is no longer a viable habitat for a species.

It takes just a little encroachment into the habitat for the results to be devastating. It may not always seem to be significant at the time. One new introduced species or one stand of trees cut and the entire ecological balance is thrown to the wind. Often it will become a domino effect with one element followed by another disappearing. First a drought will kill the trees which provided habitat for the caterpillars which are eaten by the birds.

By studying the conditions of habitat in our own backyards we can see examples of animal “slums”. A quick hike will show signs if you are looking for them.

1) Are animals using unconventional shelters? (under porches for instance)

2) Are animals eating unconventional food? (opossums for instance will often have a perfectly round scar on their face from licking the inside of tin cans)

3) Is the local waterway covered in algae? Or perhaps is it so crystal clear that it is a likely sign that not even algae can live in it?

4) Do you think there is enough space for the animals to consider it “home”? Or if seen are they just passing through?

Then, after being aware of the issues. What do your students think should be done? What do they think THEY should be doing about any wildlife “slums” they discover?

By making students aware of inappropriate conditions for their own backyard brethren could we be germinating the seeds of empathy of discussion of human conditions around the world perhaps?

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