Nature’s Cleanup Crew

Meet the unsung animal heroes who share our urban spaces and clean up our mess.
Available on CBC Gem

Nature’s Cleanup Crew

Nature of Things

To us, it’s garbage. To them, it’s dinner.

There are some busy scavengers who live among us — crafty critters who share our cities and recycle the mountains of food waste our messy society leaves behind.

Through the help of thoughtful and passionate scientists who have come to understand and love these creatures, we uncover just what makes scavengers tick. Debunking some myths along the way, we learn what adaptations they have evolved for this “messy” job, what benefits they can provide us, and how us humans can work with them so they can do their job even better.

On bustling Broadway in the middle of Manhattan, a team of young entomologists are braving the crowds of tourists to examine some of New York’s smaller inhabitants — ants. They are discovering how important the tiny, but numerous, insects are for keeping the city’s streets clean.

In Berlin, furry foxes have adapted to scavenge and survive in the urban environment — something they needed to do as human settlements encroached on their habitat. At home in Canada, we go on the hunt for the shyest and most elusive scavenger of them all — the opossum. In Toronto, Ontario, one researcher is learning more about the plucky marsupials that have recently made our backyards home, and how they’re making our cities healthier for us.

Opossums: These misunderstood marsupials clean up our yards and even help fight Lyme disease
These microscopic bacteria can eat up oil spills

In Ethiopia, the city of Addis Ababa is teeming with one of the most recognizable scavengers of them all — vultures. These striking birds are disliked by some, but they are protecting people from deadly disease. But the vultures are in trouble, their populations in decline due to poisoning. Meet the researchers on a mission to reverse the fortunes of Africa’s vultures and change the hearts and minds of the people that rely on them.

Vultures, ants, foxes, opossums and others offer us many benefits, simply by sharing our space. Nature’s Cleanup Crew is a cast of vital creatures, each beautiful in their own right. Without them, our waste would be piling up and we would be dealing with many deadly diseases.