Contacts between people and various wild animals have become more frequent in and around the capital Tallinn in recent decades. Zoologist Uudo Timm said that continued urbanization plays a role, in addition to everyone having a smartphone in their pocket to record and share their encounters.
Large predators looking for new hunting grounds
Timm pointed out that encounters involving bears and lynxes have become more frequent in Tallinn in recent years. "Large predators have been doing well, their numbers are growing, which is why there are more encounters," Timm told ERR. "Large predators are usually territorial animals, and when populations swell, young males are often forced to go in search of their own grounds. That sometimes takes them to densely populated areas and new developments."
But it's not just animals coming to where people are. Human settlement, especially new suburban developments, are encroaching on habitats. "Man has expanded to where they live. The paths that animals use have developed over centuries, just as our roads have. We all want to conserve energy, and when an animal sees a path of less resistance, they will pick that path," the scientist said.
Animals' habitats and paths will increasingly intersect with people's in Estonia. "If a lynx discovers that there are suddenly houses and cars on its path or the area where it lives, it will have no idea what they are or where they came from. Therefore, a new suburbanite finding a lynx resting on the roof of their car one fine morning might not be all that surprising," Timm suggested.
Hares have settled in the capital
European hares have also become a far more common sight in Tallinn over the past few decades. "You could occasionally see them on the fringes of the city, where forests and fields began. But now they are increasingly settling in in urban parks and garden towns," the zoologist said. Hares can be a headache for gardeners in certain situations.
Timm could not say what exactly has brought the European hare to the city lately. "While I cannot give a concrete reason, they seem to like it here. Perhaps there are fewer natural enemies around, or perhaps foxes, who also frequent the city's greener parts, find easier ways of feeding themselves than chasing after hares."
The city of Helsinki has been wrestling with a similar but considerably more widespread problem for years. The Finnish public broadcaster Yle wrote in 2020 that estimates suggest there are thousands of rabbits living in the Finnish capital. While the authorities have tried to limit the animals' numbers, various measures have only found limited success. But Helsinki's rabbit population seems to be devastated by outbreaks of viral hepatitis from time to time.
Finnish scientists say that the rabbits like Helsinki's frequently soft winters of relatively little snow, easy access to food and the relative scarcity of predators.
Timm said that jackals are also spotted increasingly often in Tallinn. "Their habitat is spreading not just in Tallinn, but all of Estonia, while they tend to prefer coastal areas. They also follow the coastline to Tallinn, which is why they have been spotted in Rocca al Mare. We also found jackal tracks in Paljassaare this year," he said.
Viimsi a magnet for moose
Interestingly, sprawling settlement has led to moose numbers growing in the small town of Viimsi just east of Tallinn. "The moose have become trapped in Viimsi as many earlier green corridors have been built over. Moose sometimes also reach the peninsula by swimming. There are still suitable habitats in the area, which is why moose numbers have been slowly swelling there. You also cannot hunt moose in the area as there are too many people around for it to be safe," Timm said.
The zoologist added that Viimsi also lacks the moose's natural predators, mainly bears and wolves. This has led to moose causing traffic safety concerns and ravaging people's gardens in the town. "Low fences will not stop them. A moose will simply jump the fence, and they do love their apple tree branches in the winter."
Open garbage containers a veritable feast
Urmas Saarmaa, professor emeritus at the University of Tartu, said that some wild animals come to the city by mistake and only stay for a short time, while others might permanently move in. "The former could apply to young moose whom their mother has driven away and who now find themselves confused."
The professor pointed to foxes as an example of the latter possibility as animals who might come to frequent the city before moving in for good. "These so-called city foxes have been observed for a while. The trend has to do with the nationwide rabies vaccine campaign that started in 2005. Estonia has been considered an area free of rabies since 2011," the professor explained.
"Fox populations started growing quickly after the vaccination drive. As the devastation previously caused by rabies was contained, more young foxes survived and some started invading urban areas," Saarmaa remarked. "Foxes have been an increasingly frequent sight in Estonian cities since 2008."
"The cold and snowy winters of 2009 and 2010 especially saw foxes move to urban areas where the table had been laid out for them. Food waste in open garbage containers, dog food etc. It is believed that food is the main reason that sees foxes move to cities. If they get used to finding an easier meal in urban environments, they will just keep taking that chance," Saarmaa said in summary.
Editor: Marcus Turovski