HOT BLAST: The mass importing of squirrels
Jan 21, 2014 | 876 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
What's furry, has a bushy tail and is everywhere? Squirrels, of course. Writing in Slate, Jason Bittel attempts to answer the question of why they are everywhere, including large urban areas where they were imported starting in the 19th century.

From Maine and Minnesota on down to Texas, the gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is better known as a fearless beggar, common to city parks, golf courses, and college campuses. They’re wild animals, technically, but that doesn’t stop us from offering them peanuts and breadcrumbs without the slightest fear of attack. Hunting urban squirrels seems like it would require little more than a cardboard box, a stick, and a length of twine.

But here’s the weird thing. Unlike rats, raccoons, coyotes, and every other animal that’s learned that living near humans means easy food, most squirrels did not move to the city for handouts. In fact, prior to the early 1800s, almost no gray squirrels scampered through any major American cities. 


Bittel took his inspiration from an academic article in the Journal of American History by Etienne Benson.

The people who introduced squirrels and other animals to public squares and commons in Philadelphia, Boston, and New Haven sought to beautify and enliven the urban landscape at a time when American cities were growing in geographic extent, population density, and cultural diversity. A typical expression of the motivation behind this effort can be found in an 1853 article in the Philadelphia press describing the introduction of squirrels, deer, and peacocks as steps toward making public squares into “truly delightful resorts, affording the means of increasing enjoyment to the increasing multitudes that throng this metropolis.” 
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