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It's Time for an Urban Wildlife Adventure with Cylita Guy

The bat enthusiast and ecology PhD is writing a nonfiction children’s book about the joys of scientific research with wildlife in the city.

05.02.2020 | by Christy Romer
Photo by Cylita Guy on Twitter
Photo by Cylita Guy on Twitter

What do Batgirl, a rat detective, a bee-washing activist and an urban carnivore expert all have in common?

Their stories and research escapades are all being celebrated in scientist Cylita Guy’s highly anticipated children’s book, “Adventures of Your Friendly Neighbourhood Urban Ecologists.”

Due to come out on Canada’s Annick Press in 2021, the book brings eight scientists’ stories from the field to life—helping kids learn more about the critters and animals in the world around them.

Subjects include Kaylee Byers, Deputy Director of the British Colombian Wildlife Health Cooperative and a self-proclaimed “rat detective.” Her research into rats’ ability to carry disease includes fun stories about Harold—the rat who escaped a trapping and lived inside her research van for two weeks.

Then there’s Charlotte de Keyzer, the badass scientist stopping companies from lying about helping bees; and Christopher Schell, whose motion-activated trail cameras track urban coyotes—and reveal how race and class shape the environments where people and animals live.

 

 

Guy, herself a certified “Batgirl,” will be at the heart of the project. Her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Toronto included research on why bats seem to be good at carrying viruses that they sometimes share with humans but rarely get sick from themselves.

She’s told stories about spending every night for months in the largest park in Toronto trying to capture big brown bats, which she says are “palm-sized” and “super adorable.” During that time, Guy and a colleague navigated rain, frustration, tiredness, broken equipment and attempted theft. She even ended up holding a bag of 30 squirming, screeching bats at one point—which she playfully says smelled “so, incredibly bad.”

“We don’t know a lot about the wildlife that we share our cities with, even though we see them on a daily basis,” Guy explained in a radio interview with CBC Canada. “There’s lots of information out there about how bats behave in natural landscapes or forested areas, but we don’t know a lot about our city bats.

“That’s really important if we want to conserve these species moving forward, but can also be really useful in managing disease spillover from our urban populations.”

She continued: “Bats are important control for pests that prey on crops that we rely on. In the tropics, they pollinate things like agave, which we use to make Tequila.

“And the species that eat fruit are really important for moving seeds around the landscape to help our rainforests regenerate properly.”

 

 

Guy’s obvious passion for bats and urban ecology comes through in interviews and online, given her delight at sharing a video of a big brown bat snacking on a mealworm.

She’s also passionate about making science as accessible as possible. Guy set up a Junior Bat Biologist Citizen Science Programme at High Park Nature Centre and is one of the lead organisers of ComSciCon Canada, the country’s first national science communication conference for graduate students.

“One of the things I’m really excited about is we want to get kids collecting community science data,” she added to CBC. “We’ve already had them start and we’re looking at expanding this programme in Southern Ontario and to change how people feel about bats.”

Will she be able to do the same for rats, coyotes and bees? We’ll have to wait for the book publication to find out.

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