Living With Wildlife

Most of us are fortunate to be able to share our neighbourhoods with wildlife. Listening to the song of birds in the early morning, or watching squirrels race up and down a tree in our backyard, or catching sight of a deer on a Sunday drive in the country, enriches our lives.

However, as the information gathered in the CAHT Conflict Survey indicates, not everyone likes wild animals in their neighbourhood, particularly when such animals take up residence on their property.

Providing Living Space

As our urban centers expand we continue to encroach on the territory of wild animals. Little thought is given to the fact that the trees and the shrub we are chopping down, and the fields we are using to build more homes, apartments, shopping and industrial centers, are animal habitats, and that each of the animals that live there play a vital part in the delicate system of nature’s checks and balances.

Displaced animals need to go somewhere, so they move on. Some species which have the ability to adapt to new habitats take advantage of the parks, ravines, and recreation areas that provide natural habitat. As well our failure to appreciate what makes our own properties attractive to wildlife often results in wild animals taken up residence right under our noses in and under sheds, garages, porches, and under soffit boards etc.,.

Because of our action – or inaction – and a virtual absence of natural predators, some wildlife species continue to adapt and often thrive in urban environments.

Preventing wildlife from becoming a nuisance

If you see wildlife on your property, don’t panic. The animals may be just passing through. To prevent them from taking up residence on your property, here are some time tested methods for protecting your property, yourself, your children and your pets, and for living in harmony with wildlife in your midst.

The first thing to remember is that, if there is no food or shelter most animals will go elsewhere. A simple 1/2 meter wire-mesh fence will keep rabbits out of a garden, and the closing of all openings in eaves and holes around wires and pipes will exclude birds, bats, squirrels and snakes from your home, and will prevent raccoons from getting a start for an entrance.

  • Keep your property clean and tidy. Don’t give wildlife a place to hide.
  • Stash Your Trash. Put tight lids on trash cans. Use locking devices on lids to make sure that they can’t be opened by raccoons or other animals and secure trash cans to prevent tipping.
  • Do not place plastic trash bags outside; they can easily be ripped open. Put plastic bags inside cans.
  • Do not put trash out until the morning of pickup. Keep it in a garage or other closed area until pickup.
  • Only feed birds. Make sure that bird feeders are located in a way to minimize access by other animals. By feeding wildlife you make them dependent on you. They need to continue finding their own food, and teaching their young to do so.
  • Feed pets indoors, or take pet food in at night. Pet food will attract wild animals, too.
  • Protect Pets. Pets should be kept indoors at night and watched closely by day. Coyotes have been known to jump fences to get small dogs and cats in their yards.
  • Caged animals, such as rabbits, pet rats, or birds, are an easy mark for coyotes. Rabbit hutches or cages should be placed inside a building or made extremely secure.
  • Clear out brush and weeds where rodents and snakes may have an opportunity to hide.
  • Although fences and walls are not obstacles for animals like squirrels and raccoons, they should be deep enough to exclude skunks, rabbits and tunneling rodents, and high enough to exclude coyotes and larger animals.
  • Cover window wells so wild animals can’t get trapped.
  • Do not plant dense ground cover.
  • If you are planting creeping vines near buildings be aware that rats and other small animals use them for access to the roof.
  • Look, But Don’t Touch If you see injured wildlife on your property call your local animal service agency or humane society. Caution children against handling wildlife.
  • Talk with your neighbours !

Information for Municipalities

Finding solutions to Human/Wildlife Conflicts

Based on the Canadian Human/Wildlife Conflict Survey completed by the Canadian Association for Humane Trapping (CAHT) in 2001, it appears that the number of reported wildlife/human interactions resulting in requests for assistance from municipal animal care and control agencies or humane societies have been steadily increasing during the past 15 years. For some animal care and control or animal welfare agencies, responding to concerns about wildlife or human/wildlife conflicts now represents as much as 30% of their workload. While birds represent a significant part of wildlife calls for animal welfare agencies, municipal agencies have seen increases in requests for assistance involving conflicts with such wild mammals as raccoons, skunks, squirrels, foxes, bears and coyotes. Even agencies which traditionally have not responded to wildlife concerns are finding that they can no longer take a complete hands-off approach, especially when residents who have a conflict with a wild animal on their property are unable to get help elsewhere. Information supplied by agencies to the 2001 CAHT Human/Wildlife Conflict Survey revealed that only agencies in the provinces of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan appear to receive ongoing support and assistance from provincial wildlife/conservation officers to resolve human/wildlife conflicts. For most others no such help is available, and frequently requires a response from the municipal animal care and control agency. Many municipalities are responding to wildlife concerns by default. Municipal animal care and control agencies are generally established to deal with by-law enforcement and services related to domestic animals, and most animal welfare agencies – except those specifically set up to deal with wildlife issues, such as wildlife centres and rehabilitators, are concerned with welfare of domestic animals.

How most Municipalities respond

In the past, providing traps (either free or rented) was how most municipal and private animal care and control agencies dealt with wildlife concerns. That has changed significantly. The CAHT Survey found that of the agencies responding to the survey, only 18% still provided trap rental services. To minimize the chance of the welfare of wildlife being needlessly compromised, CAHT is actively promoting a preventive control approach over a trap and remove method of dealing with wildlife complaints. All municipalities that currently deal with wildlife issues need to consider developing a Wildlife Conflict Response Strategy that is tailored to meet the needs of their community. Residents, particularly residents in urban settings, need to be made to understand and accept that urban wildlife populations are an important and desirable component of a municipality and only rarely pose a danger or threat to humans. Intervention or control of ‘nuisance’ or ‘problem’ wild animals should therefore only be considered when there is evidence that such animals pose a serious threat to persons, domestic animals or property. Commonly, most complaints about wildlife or requests for action do not fall within that definition, but arise merely because a wild animal is observed trespassing on a complainant’s property. When such incidents are reported, there is often an expectation that the agency responsible for responding to such complaints or concerns will trap the ‘problem’ animal and remove it from the property. Although at first glance this may appear to be a reasonable solution, this will not permanently resolve the issue. Wild animals are usually seen on private property either because the property provides a source of food and/or shelter, or because habitats exist somewhere in the neighbourhood and the animals are just passing through to get there. Wildlife populations exist in direct relationship to available habitat. Unless there is a reduction or elimination of a habitat, another animal will migrate to the area and take the place of a trapped animal. Non-intervention and preventive control have been shown to be superior in resolving human/wildlife conflicts, and should therefore be tried before the “trap and remove” approach is considered. In order to provide a consistent message on how to resolve human/wildlife conflicts, the following brochures have been developed though a cooperative effort by a number of organizations and agencies in Ontario which are involved in resolving human/wildlife conflicts. Brochures for other species are being developed.