Nobody Cares! … or do they?

A desperate chorus rises each year as spring turns into summer, and wildlife rehabilitators across the country approach or reach capacity.

It can be nearly impossible in many parts of the United States to find help for wildlife emergencies at this time of year (wildlife baby season and migration). This is tragic for the animals who need help, and it’s tragic for the good humans who are trying to help them.

A familiar refrain of frustration returns to social media, email inboxes, and voicemail messages from the would-be rescuers: Nobody cares!

We created Animal Help Now specifically because of the difficulty of finding wildlife emergency assistance in the United States (though, to be sure, it’s a planet-wide problem). With our app we have solved the problem of finding the closest and most appropriate help for wildlife emergencies – and conflicts! – but that doesn’t mean more help is available. It doesn’t mean this country has suddenly developed an appreciation for wildlife rehabilitation. It doesn’t mean wildlife agencies are making it easier to rehabilitate wildlife. It doesn’t mean government funding is available to support rehabilitation centers and hotlines.

It doesn’t mean our communities have come together to develop systemic approaches to mitigating the ubiquitous anthropogenic threats (cat and dog attacks, window strikes, motor vehicle strikes, poorly executed “nuisance” wildlife control, etc.) that result in millions of wild animals getting injured and killed in the United States every day.

Wildlife ambulances should not be the stuff of science fiction.

As your stomach turns and you jump into action after hearing the dreaded thump of a bird hitting a window, seeing a bleeding and broken-shelled turtle in the road, encountering your neighbor’s outdoor cat with a bird in her mouth, you know instantly that you will need help as quickly as possible. And it is gut-wrenchingly tragic (to the empathetic among us) that sometimes there simply is no help. When no help is available, when your only option might be to find a veterinarian who will euthanize the animal, you are rightly anguished, sad, angry….

And you may lash out. Nobody cares!

But of course that’s not true. You care. The hundreds of people looking for help for another animal in need in some other place but at the exact same time you are – they care. The volunteers who do the work to get licensed to rehabilitate wildlife and who often work out of their homes, covering their own expenses, doing their best to get phone calls returned between feedings, having compromised sleep for months on end – they care. The paid staff and volunteers serving wildlife rehabilitation centers, rescues, and hotlines care. The veterinarians who are willing to stabilize wildlife care. Many wildlife and law enforcement agents care.

AHNow’s volunteers, paid staff, and financial supporters care.

It may be fair to say that more people care than do not!

We simply must make this a safer world for wildlife and lift up wildlife rehabilitation where it belongs. Animal Help Now lays it out in its vision statement.

Animal Help Now envisions a world in which humans:

  • Respect wildlife
  • Are familiar with threats facing wildlife and act to minimize them
  • Are educated about wildlife emergencies and empowered to effectively help orphaned, injured and distressed wild animals
  • Are educated about living in harmony with wildlife and empowered to effectively and humanely resolve human/wildlife conflicts
  • Place high value on the services provided by wildlife rehabilitators, humane wildlife conflict operators and other wildlife experts

This is going to take a society-wide effort, from businesses to HOAs to all levels of government. State legislatures and state wildlife agencies and the commissions that direct them, in particular, can and must do better. More than enough people care. More than enough to effect such changes, that is. We just have to be better organized, better directed, and a bit quicker about it.

Pre-treating Trash and Recyclables for the Benefit of Wildlife

As we barge through these first decades of the anthropocene – anthroobscene? – we’re getting reminders every day of the damage humans are doing to the planet and to our fellow earthlings. Who isn’t sickened by the sight of a starving polar bear, elephants rummaging through trash, or a crushed turtle in a road left to slowly die?

Photo of herd of elephants rummaging through mound of trash.
Elephants forage for food in a Sri Lankan landfill.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the melting ice caps, ever-increasing light pollution, the ongoing destruction of rainforests, coral reefs, prairies and other wildlife homes to feed the ever-widening maw of homo sapiens, … These obscenities require COVID-level crisis response. They’re not getting it.

Monied interests of course tend to be quite comfortable with the status quo. Bayer/Monsanto will fight like hell to keep RoundUp on the market. Oil companies will fight like hell to build new pipelines. Plastics manufacturers will go so far as to blame consumers for the plastic that has found its way into the air and indeed into our bodies.

Some of us have the time, energy, and inclination to fight big fights. Some of us do the best we can with limited time, energy, or inclination. Whichever group you’re in, you can be a part of the growing effort to make your trash and recyclables less hazardous to wildlife.

Duck caught in six-pack ring.

It started with the plastic six-pack rings, of course, when we saw the malformed bodies of reptiles ensnared in them from an early age. Now many of us automatically slice up these rings before discarding them.

And that’s a good thing, unless of course that makes them more appealing meals for seabirds and marine animals, but that’s another story. Either way, we need to do a lot more. Most of us cannot be sure that our trash or our recycling won’t end up exposed to wildlife in a landfill or even in a body of water somewhere. So before you toss anything into the trash or recycling bin, think twice about whether it – like an intact six-pack ring – may pose a threat to wildlife.

Here are some we’ve identified:

Graphic showing trash and recycling that can pose threats to wildlife. Contact AHNow.org for details.

Note: The content of this graphic is by no means set in stone. If you have any input on how we can improve it, please let us know!

Limit your purchase of single-use materials! Buy bulk when you can. Reuse bags, boxes, twist ties, and the like.

Finally, we’d be remiss to not mention fishing line. Animal Help Now constantly gets reports of animals, mostly waterfowl, ensnared in discarded fishing line. If you spend anytime near areas where humans fish, be on the lookout. The tool you carry to snip discarded masks may very well help you remove this threat from the homes of our wildlife neighbors. And if you see someone discard a line, either confront that person or take good notes of the time, location, person’s description, license plate, whatnot, and contact law enforcement.

With a Million Species at Risk of Extinction from Human Causes, What’s an Individual to Do?

Note: This piece was originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera on May 24, 2019.

The recently released summary of the upcoming UN report on nature describes a biosphere rapidly degrading under the profoundly deleterious influences of Homo sapiens. (Yes, the upright species with the opposable thumbs and magnificent brains.)

Most of us have seen the headlines covering one of the study’s more frightening conclusions – that humans are putting a million animal and plant species at risk of extinction. That’s one in every nine.

The summary’s key messages:

  • Nature embodies biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • Nature sustains and inspires humans.
  • Nature is deteriorating at an increasingly accelerated rate at human hands, and in turn is increasingly less able to sustain and inspire humans.
  • “Transformative change” is required to effectively address this crisis.

The authors define transformative change as “a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

Transformative change is a rather tall order in a world of conflict and competition, diminishing resources and increasing human population – where one human’s disappearing ice caps and starving polar bears are another’s emerging trade routes.

Spoiler alert: the humans who value nature over wealth acquisition are the only ones who can guide us out of this mess.

The good news, I suppose, is that with one in nine species at risk of extinction, we don’t have to fly to Africa or bus down to the zoo to see endangered animals. They’re right in our backyard! The study essentially asserts they’re actually inside our homes, too – get up close to a mirror to see one.

The assessment’s authors rank the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far. They are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use (2) direct exploitation of organisms (3) climate change (4) pollution and (5) invasive species.

It will not surprise you, reader, that our species is singularly to blame for these adverse impacts … though I do fault prairie dogs, too; more on that below.

I think it was Einstein who said, “Transformative change cannot be achieved by the same ninnies who created the need for transformative change.” Maybe not verbatim. The good thing is that change can happen in a generation. Perhaps we’ll lose only a half million species!

In the meantime, it’s high time for us – each of us – to get right. Those deleterious changes in land use? We’re fattening up animals to fatten up ourselves when we should be feeding our fellow humans. We need to eat lower on the food chain. More plant protein. More local. Same with “the direct exploitation of organisms.” The biggie there is commercial fisheries. Consuming more plant protein covers those first two, and arguably it’s the best thing you can do to combat climate change, not to mention that fewer wild horses and badgers and coyotes and mountain lions will be killed by ranchers and government agents in your name. And we need to buy less stuff. Stuff is not the stuff of happiness.

Now that we are surrounded by endangered species, our everyday actions can effect transformative change. This starts by valuing the wild animals and plants around us. Cherish and support pollinators. Keep cats indoors; better yet, give them access to the elements from inside a screened-in deck or porch. Domestic cats and dogs kill billions of wild animals every year in the United States. Make your windows bird friendly – a billion birds die in this country each year from window strikes. Drive carefully. Animals haven’t adapted to our highways and fast-moving vehicles. Don’t use glue traps – they are criminal, whether they ensnare a target or nontarget animal. If you see abandoned fishing line on your next hike, retrieve it. If you’re tempted to abandon fishing line/gear, just abandon fishing instead, please.

Be ready if you encounter injured, potentially orphaned or distressed wildlife. Downloading our free app. Hug your local wildlife rehabilitator. Hug a hunter, too, if you want to, but let’s modify the funding mechanisms for our state wildlife agencies so those of us who don’t hurt and kill wildlife have much more say in wildlife “management.”

Be humbled. We humans are not that great. We could be, but that would require … what’s the term? Oh yeah, transformative change! Read the nature study summary (bit.ly/IPBESReport) and the 14-page Green New Deal (https://www.brightest.io/green-new-deal).

Oh, and about those prairie dogs – I was just kidding. We have met the destructive pests, and they are us.

Careful What You Prune and Fell

With apologies to Mr. Kilmer:

I know I must look hard to see
A squirrel’s nest in a leafy tree
Raccoon dens, too, elude my sight
As tree trunks reach their tow’ring heights

Most of us know by now that landscape and tree services can imperil our wild neighbors and their homes.

The climate crisis is making things worse, as in many areas squirrels, for instance, are now giving birth three times a year instead of two.

The rules are pretty simple.

  • Is the work even necessary? Dead trees provide habitat for hundreds of species. Keep them around, if you can.
  • Schedule the work for the times of year when wild animals are least apt to be raising dependent young. November through February and late May to mid-July are still the best times in most areas of the United States, but global heating is impacting this.
  • Before work begins, watch for any activity that might indicate the presence of nests or dens.
  • Ask anyone you hire to keep a lookout for nests and dens while they do their work.
  • Tell anyone you hire you do not want any animals harmed or active animal homes disturbed.
  • Tell anyone you hire to alert you immediately if animals are harmed or left homeless.

If the worst happens, use Animal Help Now to find expert assistance in caring for injured or orphaned animals.

Woodpecker, dead tree (snag)
Dead trees, whether standing or down, are priceless. Here’s a great resource
to find out more: http://cavityconservation.com/saving-dead-trees/.

A fate worse than death, then death

I’ll not soon forget one of my heroes – Jon Stewart, then host of The Daily Show – giggling while airing a video of a skunk or raccoon with her head stuck in a jar of peanut butter or some such.

Comedy is personal, and one person’s funny is another’s unfunny. I don’t blame a satirical genius for occasionally taking the easy slapstick laugh. And gods know we don’t need to reinforce the stereotype that vegans are humorless.

The stuck skunk came to mind when a friend told me yesterday that her landlord in animal-loving Boulder, Colorado, had hired a “pest control” operator to kill rats who had moved into her house after high waters displaced them from their homes along an irrigation ditch. (For what it’s worth, even among humane wildlife control operators you’ll find a few that are OK killing rats.)

This operator arrived ill equipped for the job. His snap traps were too small for rats, but they were all he had, he said, so he put one out anyway. The next day, the trap was gone. The rat was found days later in a wall some distance away, his head stuck in the trap, having succumbed to death from starvation or thirst or internal injuries after what was likely unspeakable pain and suffering. Everybody fights to live.

To its credit, the City of Boulder on its web page on “safe and effective rat control” encourages the public to provide oversight on operators: “Ensure that you understand the principles for effective trapping and don’t assume that a pest control service will use these techniques unless you require it when you hire them.”

We support the City’s advice on minimizing conflicts with rats, but we are at odds with their quick-to-kill approach. Rats are not to blame for taking advantage of the favorable living conditions provided for them in the human environment. We disparage rats and pigeons, but perhaps we need to be mindful of the adage that those characteristics we most despise in others we also see in ourselves.

Our species makes a mess of things, so is it any wonder we attract animals who thrive in messes? Is it any wonder the skunk gets her head stuck in a recklessly discarded peanut butter jar?

This year Animal Help Now debuted its wildlife conflict service, which enables anyone anywhere to get humane advice (and, in many areas, assistance) for dealing with “nuisance” wildlife. This isn’t about cash. (We’re a nonprofit.) It’s about taking responsibility. It’s about taking care of those most impacted by the havoc we’re wreaking on the world.

Watch your step!

— I sicken a little to think of all the insects I kill when traveling in my car. So I’m extra careful when on foot.

This little fellow – the size of a cherry pit – narrowly escaped death when I rushed up the back step yesterday.

I do tend to pay attention to where my feet will fall, but I was extra vigilant in my foot travels the rest of the day.

And what did I see later at a park but my first toad of the year.

Reminds me of what my friend and sometime-mentor Jasper Carlton said about the pace of life, which was to the effect of, “You can’t really experience or be a part of your environment when you’re traveling through it at high speed.”

If it takes a snail to remind me to slow down, that’s just fine.

Hurry July 5

Among the several reasons to enjoy July 4 in the United States is the calm that comes about when this country takes a collective recess from work. Not a collective meditative calm, which is hard to even imagine, but at least a recreational calm.

Everyone’s playing. Or eating. Or chilling. Or whatever.

To be sure, the commutes are light. And there’s a welcome stillness in the air.

Which makes the evenings of the 3rd and 4th all the worse. That welcome stillness – not to appear overly dramatic here, but that’s the calm before the storm.

Fireworks create an unfathomable amount of duress across wildlife communities and of course among domestic animals. We all know dogs and cats who run and hide at the sound of the first firework, some of whom will shake uncontrollably for hours.

Surely many pigs and chickens and cows suffer likewise, though being out of sight, their plight is unnoticed. It’s not hard to imagine that many animals in laboratories are adversely affected, too.

If history sadly repeats itself, “Ralphie,” the buffalo mascot of the University of Colorado, will be trotted out for the amusement of the crowd at the university and city’s event at the campus stadium. Buffalo and bison are known to be highly sensitive to sound.

I remember seeing a fox absolutely disoriented and terrified outside the stadium at a celebration many years back. She somehow found herself in the middle of the huge crowd of people agog at the flashing lights and loud bangs. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an animal so alone.

The companion animals inside our homes are the best off. They are less likely to get physically hurt. They won’t be running into traffic or fleeing blindly into the night.

Those who are terrorized or made anxious by fireworks may be helped by wrapping a towel or sheet around them (or using the popular Thundershirt, which operates on the same principle).

Some will benefit from pharmaceuticals or natural remedies.

Many will benefit if you close your windows and turn up the volume a bit on whatever it is they like hearing. Keep them busy. Keep them inside.

On July 5, Facebook, Nextdoor.com and other sites will be rife with reports of lost and found animals. Animal shelters will see an increase in the number of lost animal companions. (Use the Animal Help Now website or phone app for guidance if you find or lose a companion animal.)

I feel, too, for the veterans and others among us humans for whom fireworks are traumatic.

I know how I sound, but give me a magic wand, and I won’t make fireworks go away; I’ll make them enjoyable for everyone.

Such wands being in short supply, I’ll hope for the best for all those impacted by the unnecessary violence of this holiday, and I will welcome the July 5 morning light, though with the sad knowledge that our celebrations resulted in so much trauma to our animal friends – domestic and wild, alike – and in countless of their lives being lost or shattered.

Spiders!

Sorry. I mean, spiders.

I’ve seen two in my bathtub now in the past several weeks. Both times were when I’d forgotten to put up their escape “ladder” – that is to say, the hand towel I keep draped over the edge of the tub.

Yes. The two times I’ve failed to replace the towel after using the tub, I’ve found spiders stranded in the basin.

I scooped them up with a postcard and deposited them into a nearby corner on the bathroom floor, so they could return to exploring or hunting or whatever it is spiders do when they’re not sleeping.

Which is to say that (a) spiders seem to enjoy forays into my bathtub and (b) when I find them there they likely aren’t lying in wait.

And more to the point, it’s to say that I live with spiders and everyone seems to get along OK.

I understand the fear. And some spiders definitely evoke it in me more than others. So I understand the desire to deposit them not on the bathroom floor but outside the house. Whether or not this sentences many of them to death or hardship, I do not know, but I do care, and so I err on the side of caution (though, black widow, you shall go outside).

Note that these words are being written by a person once so frightened of spiders that he took an aerosol can and a lighter and torched one whose only crime was being in a place in my apartment where I couldn’t easily capture or otherwise kill him.

This same person who committed that awful act would many years later relocate a brown recluse and what appeared to be hundreds of her babies.

So things change, and that’s part of the point. The arc of one’s respect for others is long, but with any luck it bends toward an increase.

The other part of the point is to imagine for just a second the likelihood that a being as tall as a skyscraper would shiver or cower when encountering a tiny little human. Right? Get it?

Life is precious. Spiders are amazing. If you don’t want to see them, though, stop trapping them in tubs and sinks. A hand towel will do the trick.