London and wildlife aren’t things that mix all that often. Sure, the outer boroughs do well, what with the Richmond deer and all, but the closest an inner-city Londoner normally gets to wildlife is being disturbed at 3 am on a summer morning by a wailing pair of mating foxes, only to be woken up a couple of hours later by the dawn chorus. Beyond this, a whole host of non-native and exotic wildlife has made London its home, and although these species aren’t quite as headline-worthy as the Thames whale or the Essex lion, they’re still here.
Snakes on Regent’s Canal
Back in May, a knot of Aesclupian snakes on Regent’s Canal caused a bit of a hoo-haa when it was believed they might pose a danger to the public, all of which lead to talk of a cull. The snakes were reportedly seen on roofs and hanging from trees, and were said to be dangerous, particularly to children and pets, though this was disputed by this expert. Various theories flew around as to how the colony got there: did they escape from nearby London Zoo or were they released as part of a secret science experiment? It’s still a bit of a mystery.
Snakes in general seem to be a problem in London. Earlier this summer, two 8ft long boa constrictors were caught by police after being discovered in a children’s playground in East Ham.
Wallabies in Highgate Cemetery
Wild wallabies seem to rear their heads in the British newspapers relatively frequently. Thanks to some escapees from Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire several years ago, there are several wild colonies in South East England, and it’s thought that many people have kept them as pets only to dump them later. Only last year, a wallaby was reported bouncing around Highgate Cemetery for more than a fortnight before being caught. Sadly, it died during an operation on a broken foot. Less than a month later, a second wallaby was also found in the cemetery but happily, this one was caught and rehomed safely.
Super ants in Hendon
A new species of Asian super ant, which has a strong attraction to electricity, has been found in Hendon after spreading from the only known colony in Britain, in Gloucestershire. They exist in colonies several miles long, explaining how they’ve spread so fast. They prioritise finding electricity over eating or drinking, and pose a fire risk due to their habit of chewing through cables, which makes us wonder just how big these ants are.
Flamingos at Kensington Roof Gardens
Ok, so strictly speaking these aren’t ‘on the loose’, but most people strolling down Kensington High Street are unaware of Bill, Ben, Splosh and Pecks, the flamingos who inhabit Kensington Roof Gardens. Less well-known residents of the Roof Gardens include Carolina and Mandarin ducks, New Zealand Scaups, goldfish and crayfish.
Peacocks in Holland Park
The Japanese/Kyoto Gardens in this other green oasis in Kensington are home to free-roaming peacocks. In the past, locals have been warned that the birds are likely to wander outside of their usual territory during mating season.
Pelicans in St James’ Park
Regular visitors to St James’ Park barely bat an eyelid at the presence of the pelican colony, but they haven’t always been there. They were introduced as a gift from the Russian ambassador in 1664 and have bred there ever since. They have been known to be over-friendly towards park-goers, but just be grateful that pelicans are all you come eye-to-eye with these days: when James I took the throne in 1603, he had camels, crocodiles and an elephant kept in the park.
Although they originally populated South East London with New Cross and Lewisham being good places to spot them, parakeet colonies have since been spotted as far afield in the capital as Borehamwood, Carshalton Beeches, Catford and Richmond. In fact, as far back as 2006, they have been recorded in all 33 London boroughs.
Scorpions in the Docks
European yellow-tailed scorpions are believed to be living somewhere in the London Docks, following on from a colony which was established in Sheerness, Kent, in the 1800s. Earlier this year, a passenger on a tube train was horrified to find one of the blighters clinging to his bag.
Golden pheasants at Kew
The birds, native to China, roam free around Queen Charlotte House in Kew. It’s believed there are around 20 in total, although estimates fluctuate.
On a side note – what is it with ‘p’ birds and London? Peacocks, pheasants, pelicans, parakeets, and of course, the pigeons.
For more information, have a look at The London Invasive Species Initiative. Can you think of any we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.
See also: Some of London Zoo’s more famous animals.