Wildlife calls on the rise in Alameda County
on November 27, 2010
Oakland police shot and killed a young deer in an East Oakland backyard in May. Berkeley police shot and killed a mountain lion in a residential neighborhood in August. Over the past year, throughout the county, residents have called in a rising number of complaints about opossums, skunks, raccoons and other small animals invading their backyards—all signs that human clashes with wildlife might be on the rise.
Officials at Alameda County Vector Control say that community calls for requests to deal with wildlife have steadily increased over the last decade as more animals search in urban areas for food and shelter. This year, the number of calls requesting help to remove wild animals—like raccoons, skunks and even foxes—continues to follow the trend, says Daniel Wilson, the community coordinator for Alameda County Vector Control. “Over the last two years, the wildlife calls are outnumbering the rodent calls,” he says.
With 853 calls about raccoons, 416 about skunks and several more for squirrels, opossums, cats and rabbits, the total number of calls about small mammals so far this year is over 1,500. The agency received an additional 1,100 requests for help dealing with rats and around 300 more for mice. This is significantly more than 2009, when the agency received 1,625 calls total.
Alameda County Vector Control traps biting or nuisance animals and takes them away. For rodents, it will use poison during disease outbreaks or emergencies; it also deals with insect populations such as cockroaches, fleas, lice, yellow jackets and ticks. Overall, says Wilson, the number of calls concerning animals of any size is higher than it was last year. “Every year, there’s a bit of a difference,” says Wilson. “This year there’ve been a lot of favorable conditions for opossums.” So far this year, vector control has received 83 requests for services related to removing opossums, as compared to 2009 when they got 73.
The Lindsay Wildlife Museum, based in Walnut Creek, also takes calls for service from all over the Bay Area. The museum focuses on rehabilitating hurt animals rather than dealing with pests, so many of the calls they receive are for birds, like finches, jays and robins. However, they still get calls for squirrels, opossums, skunks, snakes, turtles and salamanders in people’s homes and yards that the residents hope the museum will either help or remove. The museum receives around 20,000 calls a year but, unlike Alameda County Vector Control, this number has stayed flat over the past decade.
Wildlife experts say that animals invade human turf because of the high availability of food and refuge. “Wildlife animals go about their business and go into backyards and we provide all this habitat for them,” says Susan Heckley, the wildlife rehabilitation director for the Lindsay Wildlife Museum. “These animals have way more available resources when there’s a lot of people.” In the established Oakland neighborhoods where some of the homes are older, she says animals find loose vent covers where they can access crawl spaces. “The animals are just trying to make a living out there,” she says. “So, if we put up houses that have dark and quiet places to make a den, offer food sources and offer water sources, they’ll come in.”
Both Wilson and Heckley say that animals are coming into people’s yards and homes because of all the food available. “We provide a lot of food, enough to support large populations of a whole variety of animals,” he says, including pet food left outside or what’s in people’s garbage cans and gardens. Wilson mentions a situation a few years ago when an Oakland man called saying that he had about 35 raccoons in his backyard. “They were clawing at his back door,” Wilson says, “and it turned out he had been feeding them for years.” Once people start feeding wildlife, the animals become dependent says Wilson. “When you stop, there’s going to be some type of repercussion.”
The primary concern for Alameda County Vector Control is to prevent any human disease or injury from insects, rodents, and other animals. Rabies is one of the diseases they regularly test for on captured animals. Bats are the animals that most commonly carry rabies, and skunks are number two. Even though all mammals can contract rabies, vector control hasn’t had any other type of animal test positive for rabies in years. When skunks contract rabies, they don’t attack, says Wilson—in fact, they’re far more dangerous to themselves than to humans. “They get dumb rabies,” Wilson says. “So they’re not aggressive, more likely they’ll walk in front of a car.”
Heckley warns that since any mammal can catch rabies, it’s best not to handle any wild animals that wander into your neighborhood. Instead people should call Alameda County Vector Control (510-567-6800), Lindsay Wildlife Museum (925-935-1978) or other animal services such as Yggdrasil Urban Wildlife Rescue (510-421-YUWR) and the Montclair Veterinary Hospital Pet & Wildlife Fund (510 339-2400).
She also says people can make sharing the city with wildlife easier by making sure there are no accidental food sources for animals, checking their homes for openings that could be used by wild animals and securing crawl spaces. If you find an open vent, she cautions, you should make sure there are no animals living there before closing it off. “They will take advantage of any resources,” she says. “It’s good to be proactive about it.”
Image: Calls for raccoons are on the rise. Photo by docentjoyce via Flickr Creative Commons.
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