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Wildlife Whispers...

The Downside of Co-existing with Urban Wildlife

by Dee Walmsley

Our world is shrinking. Everyday, as we increase our population we destroy our forests, fields and streams. We replace them with roads, concrete and construction. We clear our space, build our homes and then attempt to replace the natural environment. We sow and manicure lawns, shrubs and flowerbeds but the fifty to one hundred year old trees we removed, no longer shelter wildlife or filter our air. Mother Nature takes her time. It will take another half century for any replacements to restore the lost amenities.

We escape the concrete jungles of the city and purchase lots adjacent to green belts. We dedicate parkland and greenbelts where we dump our garden refuse and other garbage. We insist on gaining entry to every square inch of greenery with mulched, paved and wooden trails for walking, bike riding and exercising our pets.

 We forget that we are not alone in our woodlots. We are in fact trespassing on wildlife habitat. If we are lucky enough to see a deer or rabbit, we smile, because in leaving wildlife corridors we have sponsored their very existence. We are very proud of our generosity.

The birds flock to our feeders, the woodland critters raid our composting smorgasbord and the cute little squirrels give us hours of pleasure as we observe their antics in stealing from the birds.

 But, when greenbelts and parks can no longer support the wildlife and they encroach on our territory we no longer see the animals in the same light, in fact, they become pests, and there is only one thing to do with pests; get rid of them.

Raccoons and squirrels invade our homes seeking safe denning sites. Damage varies from entering through a vent to ripping the shingles off roofs. Folks become irritated listening to noises in their attics and in making repairs. In most cases they call in the experts, the wildlife damage control specialists. These people are trained in evicting animals in a humane fashion, saving them when possible and making household repairs. They also practice prevention; teaching the homeowner how to animal proof their homes. They do not come cheap; they are professionals trying to make a living. Each year a number of homeowners, take matters into their own hands. The tragic results are prolonged suffering and/or death to the wildlife.

Talk to any damage control expert and they will relate the horror stories, mostly done through ignorance, which they eventually have to deal with. The following  stories are from one company’s files. 

We log all incoming calls so we know who called and when. We received a call concerning a raccoon that was getting into the crawl space of an apartment house. The tenants also complained of noises in the walls and attic. The landlord asked for and received an estimate for services and hung up.

About ten days later, we received another call concerning "strange noises "in the attic. From the description it sounded like baby raccoons. We arrived at the address and were told the story. The landlord told the tenant that we wanted too much to remove the animals and the next day a cage trap appeared outside the building next to the vent the raccoon was using for an entrance. The next morning a large angry raccoon was in the trap and the landlord removed it. The apartment was quiet for a few days then noises started in the attic. The landlord was called but decided he didn't want to go up and see for himself, so we were called.

What I found was a trail leading from the hole where the vent pipe came up from the drains toward the front of the attic. Moving from rafter to rafter I followed this trail and found a raccoon kit lying in the trail moving feebly. At the end of the trail was the nest now empty. Further searching found another very weak kit.  I removed them and took them to a rehabber where they died within a couple of days.

A second case was when the landlord again got an estimate and said he would call back.  Two days later we got a frantic call asking us to remove a family of raccoons from the living room of an apartment. When we arrived, the tenants were outside. 

Inside we found a female and two half grown kits, which we removed. The tenants told us the property owner said the local animal shelter staff told him that mothballs and ammonia would drive the raccoons out. He had climbed on the roof, poured a bottle of ammonia into the roof vents, and tossed a box of mothballs up through the attic trap door. He then nailed a heavy screen over the vent the raccoons were using for an access. The raccoons, now trapped, made their way down and onto a suspended ceiling by digging through the old plastered ceiling. As they huddled on a panel it broke and dropped all three into the living room.

The man tried to calm his roommate and said he would " Just toss them out.” He then wrapped his arm in a towel and went after the raccoon family.  The mother raccoon attempting to protect her young bit the persecutor who then fled and called the landlord for help. The animals, because someone was bitten, were destroyed and sent in for testing for rabies.

The last call is a prime example of do it yourself animal control. We got a call from a man asking for an estimate on removing a raccoon from a chimney. The man thanked us and hung up. A week later we got a call about an odor in a fireplace from a woman and we went to inspect the problem.
Upon arrival I found an older woman who lived alone. In the living room was the fireplace; a slight odor of decay was coming from the doors. Checking the roof, we found signs of raccoon entry and as we explained, what we found the woman told us the following story.

She had been hearing noises in the fireplace for some time, and had called her sons to investigate. They found the raccoon and called us. Then they called around for other suggestions and decided to do the job themselves by  "smoking her out". First they built a fire in the fireplace. They stood outside waiting to see the animal scamper out, which didn't happen. 

They then decided that maybe it wasn't the smoke they needed but that the animal needed to see the flames. After all in the movies they always fled from flames. So they climbed on the roof and began dropping lighted balls of rolled newspaper down the chimney. After the first couple they waited and when nothing happened they dropped more. 

Suddenly the inside of the house was filled with squeals and screeches coming from the fireplace. The woman was frantic and ran outside in time to see her sons dropping another ball down the chimney. She stopped them and they all stood in shocked silence as the sounds continued. When the fire died down so did the noises. The woman went into the house but could still hear whimpers and whines that bothered her greatly. So much so, that she spent the night at one of the son’s houses. The next day her sons returned and found the house quiet, and no sign of life in the fireplace.

The woman returned home thinking the animal might only have been afraid. Then the smell started. I opened the damper and removed the remains of three kits, all badly burned. I asked the woman if there was a cleanout in the basement, and she replied that there was another fireplace down there in what had been a family room.

When we opened the basement door I smelled burnt fur. The woman asked what the smell was. I closed the door, leaving her upstairs, and went down and across the room to the fireplace. The opening had been closed off with a sheet of plywood screwed to the wall. I removed the screws and with a flashlight, peeked in.

There sat a female raccoon and two kits. The kits were shaking violently and their fur was singed badly. The female had been burned worst around her head and forepaws. The fur on her back was gone and her skin was cracked and bleeding, and her right eye was matted shut. As she breathed, bubbles of goo appeared in her nostrils.

I closed the panel and went to talk to the owner. I offered to remove the family then, but she was upset and insisted on calling her sons. She asked me to check back later that afternoon. That evening she called the office and asked us to come by the next morning to remove the raccoons. The next morning I returned and reopened the fireplace. The female and her kits were gone. A check of the roof showed bloody paw prints where she
 had fled the chimney with her family. I capped the flues and left.

Wayne Langman, Langman's Wildlife Services, Terre Haute, In.

As horrific as these stories are they are true and happening everyday in our own communities. Only you and I can stop them by educating ourselves on how to co-exist with urban wildlife. Contact your local wildlife damage control or wildlife rehabilitator for more information.

Dee Walmsley would love to hear from you! Email: deew74@shaw.ca

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