Cast into the shadows of North Philadelphia, thousands each day try to reclaim the land currently occupied by Temple that was once theirs. They eat fallen food scraps on Liacouras Walk while they plot their revenge.
They have inhabited North Philadelphia long before North Philadelphia even existed. They pre-date the neighborhood’s earliest residents by centuries and Temple students by even more. They are Temple’s wildlife – an energetic community of animals losing the unwinnable fight against urbanization.
Temple prides itself on its diversity; diversity of race, diversity of interests, diversity of backgrounds and, unintentionally, a diverse assortment of animals that considers Temple its home. Dozens of squirrels, birds, cats and smaller creatures move around Temple and the surrounding area every day alongside thousands of students.
Temple students have a strange obsession with the animals that occupy Main Campus. Temple’s cats and squirrels have been the inspiration for various Facebook and Twitter accounts in their honor. Last year, students in Johnson & Hardwick converted a large cardboard box into a home for whichever cats desired to use it.
Some students have even made members of North Philadelphia’s wildlife their pets – either cats that stumbled upon a student’s doorstep or turtles acquired through Temple’s turtle market of questionable legality. Freshmen are frequently heard fretting over how to hide a pet fish in order to pass their room inspections. Perhaps our obsession is rooted in the stresses of college and urban life. Appreciating Temple’s wildlife allows students to escape the fast pace of life in Philadelphia.
However, the benefits we receive from the presence of Temple’s wildlife are not always reciprocated. Although squirrels and birds benefit from the trees and grass artificially positioned by Temple to replicate a suburban oasis, this attempt to reintroduce nature to North Philadelphia doesn’t fool the community’s wildlife.
Squirrels constantly find themselves having to venture around buildings, across large sections of concrete and between cars in order to move from one small group of trees to another. Birds face an equal degree of difficulty in their daily lives, many who have fallen victim to the ultra-reflective windows of the TECH Center along 12th Street. Because these windows reflect the trees that stand before them, many birds fail to notice the existence of the building until flying directly into it and dying almost immediately.
Although Temple’s installed nature elements provide a more hospitable environment for animals than the rest of North Philadelphia, Temple’s wildlife is generally unhappy with its living situation. The animals’ first idea was to settle their problems through Temple’s Board of Trustees.
However, Temple’s wildlife soon realized that the Board was reluctant to listen to humans’ problems, let alone those of animals. Unable to voice their concerns through words, Temple’s wildlife decided to express its dissatisfaction through protest in an effort to slowly deteriorate Temple as a whole.
On two occasions over the past two months, squirrels were successful in disabling Blackboard – a website containing academic material essential to a Temple student’s success. Wishing to keep the actions of the squirrels secret, the university announced that the outage on Aug. 8 was merely “maintenance” and the crash on Sept. 21 was a data overload. Some students couldn’t complete homework assignments and at least one professor couldn’t conduct his class without Blackboard.
Then, the crafty squirrels managed to chew on the correct wires behind the TECH Center to prevent students from using Diamond Dollars and from accessing critical class information. As a result, hundreds of cashless students were turned away from Diamond-Dollar-accepting establishments like 7-Eleven and Richie’s.
We can’t say for sure whether squirrels, or any other animals at Temple, will attempt another act of retaliation before winter forces them to take shelter. However, their passion for reclaiming their land is greater now than ever. Outraged by loud construction all hours of the day and cost-conscious students throwing less food on the ground for them to eat, Temple’s wildlife has had enough with the university’s influence on their native land.
Although Temple attempts to minimize its impact on North Philadelphia’s human residents, they take little consideration into the impact of major university decisions on Philadelphia’s true natives.
Michael Carney can be reached at email@example.com