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Keeping Wildlife Wild
....Silencing the Call of the Wild in Your Own Backyard
by Kay L. Hossner, D.V.M., California
As we know too well, people are opportunistic. If you own a business, do you leave the doors unlocked when you go home at night? No, because somebody is likely to take advantage of the situation by going in and stealing your merchandise or money.
Animals are opportunists too. Deer will be drawn to the tastiest plants within easy reach (often our most prized flowers!) Dogs will paw through available garbage for a choice morsel. We can't blame them, we'll take the easy way over the hard way any day too! The problem arises however, when animals see opportunities that we don't recognize, and then we get angry at them for being so clever in taking advantage of us. What we need to do is heighten our awareness of the situations where this may occur.
Unfortunately, wild animals that have lost that wariness and have more contacts with humans also tend to have shorter life spans. That's because these tend to be our problem critters, and frequently are killed or relocated. Relocation is usually a death sentence too, as most appropriate habitat areas are already full, and dropping in one more animal merely sets the stage for territorial fights.
How can we keep wild creatures wild? Probably the easiest and most effective method is to remove any opportunities around our property that are particularly attractive and easy for wildlife to take advantage of.
For the small scale marauders -- the opossums, skunks, foxes, mice, rats, and raccoons -- opportunity denial mostly boils down to housekeeping. In buildings, deny entrance by stuffing cracks and holes with steel wool (critters are unable to gnaw through it), keep foundations, roofs, and walls in good repair, and vents and windows screened. Don't leave doors or windows open for your pets to run in and out. Instead, invest in a lockable swinging pet door. Feed pets inside or, if you must feed outside, pick up the food bowls when pets are done eating.
The exquisitely sensitive noses of those furry little bandits are likely to pick up the merest hint of food even on a well-licked empty bowl. No sense in inviting them around on a regular basis to see what other mischief they can get into.
Keep garbage inside a building or in a heavy duty, non-tippable, tightly covered garbage container that keeps odors locked in. Bird seed, pet food, and other foodstuffs should be kept inside too, preferably in a container with a tightly fitting lid. Leftover table scraps should be buried 6-12 feet deep in your compost pile so that the odors don't waft out and attract the wrong clientele.
The large predators, most particularly the mountain lion, but also the bear, bobcat, and coyote, have been causing a lot of concern. Good housekeeping measures outlined above are a good start in keeping these opportunists from visiting our properly regularly, but we need to include more extensive measures to keep out pets and livestock safe.
Keep brush cleared a minimum of 50 feet back from the edges of yards and livestock pastures, and keep pastures clear. Mountain lions stalk their prey from cover of brush, and usually attack from closer than 50 feet.
Electric fences have proven effective against predators, including coyotes. Guard dogs (not herding dogs) such as the large Great Pyrenees and the Hungarian Komondor, when raised with livestock and properly trained, offer continual livestock protection.
Keep pets and livestock inside and protected from early evening until morning. Mountain lions are most active at dusk and dawn when their main prey, deer, are feeding, but are also active at night. They rarely actively hunt during the day.
Make sure livestock/poultry are enclosed nightly in predator-proof barns/pens. This will include wire fencing or foundations that go below ground to prevent digging under, and roofs or heavy wire tops over pens.
Pets should have access to safe quarters 24 hours a day. This should include access to to a garage, building, or dog house protected by a swinging pet door that a wild animal is unlikely to figure out. Pets should not be allowed to roam in wooded/brushy areas away from the main buildings.
By following these common-sense guidelines, you can greatly decrease the chances that the wild critters in your neighborhood with consider your place a convenient "fast food joint."
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