Despite good intentions, trapping and relocating wildlife is often a death sentence

Need an argument-ending argument on the contentious issue of whether or not #trapping and #relocating wildlife is humane?

When Jack Murphy from Urban Wildlife Rescue Inc endorses an article on humane wildlife control, our ears prick up. And when we see the author is Katherine McGill from 411 Raccoon Solutions (FL), we’re all in.

This is such an important read. It was written for humane wildlife control operators, but it’s chock-full of good information for the rest of us. Please give it the attention it deserves and have it ready next time you see some amateurs on FB or Nextdoor spouting off on what does and doesn’t work when it comes to “nuisance” wildlife.

Successful catch or utter failure? The perils of trapping and relocating.
by Katherine McGill, 411 Raccoon Solutions

You never know if the animal you caught is the “guilty party”, or just one drawn to the free meal in your trap. Pretty much any 10 year old can bait a trap and catch something. Frankly, it is downright lazy and cruel – and ineffective. You dump this animal miles away and believe you spared his or her life.

Hopefully, the animal was not a mother and her babies were not left to perish, slowly. When they are found, even if they are alive, it is too late for any happy ending. Their mother is long gone, having gone frantic for being separated from them, terrified in a foreign land… while we tell ourselves how lucky she is to have been relocated?? These heartbroken now-orphans will cost a volunteer rehabilitator several hundred dollars, months of time, risk of communicable shelter disease, and less-than-optimum survival skills without their mother. Now, multiply this one single “good deed” times tens of thousands, year after year… Is that humane? For whom?

Fact: When resolving a “nuisance” animal issue, there is no such thing as “humane trapping and relocation”.

Fact: There is no idyllic place where existing animals welcome newcomers dumped in their territory. None.

As of this writing, we have 15 years of GPS raccoon translocation studies to prove this isn’t humane and has poor survival rates – just 18%. We have hard science proving conflicts are best resolved in situ; i.e., on site, and not with removal. More than 90% of conflicts today can be resolved without removing the animal.

With rules and regulations that allow people to freely trap and relocate wildlife while knowing it is by far the undesirable approach, what can we do as advocates to ensure proper actions are taken and that the science (and our intent to do our best by them) is upheld and better achieved?

1) Recommend people to the most qualified sources we have available to us today. Know your own limitations in this field, especially if you are not a trained humane wildlife conflict operator. Most people will appreciate your suggestions and compassion, but make no mistake that they still want their resolution ASAP. If suggestions are all you can offer, get better at them. If you’re an HWCO, never “close” an inquiry without putting the number of a trusted HWCO in their hands.

Animal Help Now offers the most complete listing of humane wildlife conflict operators (HWCOs). Simply click “Wildlife Conflict” to find operators in your area.

Even if there is no HWCO close by, you will still be provided with nationwide consultants who will provide guidance free of charge. Most of these Specialists will help people to hire and properly guide a local NWCO provider. They, the paying customer, can dictate what methods are used by any NWCO they need to hire if they know specifically what to demand is done. (NWCO = “Nuisance” wildlife control operator, AKA “trapper”.)

2) Do not throw out a dozen “remedies” as if they alone are silver-bullet complete resolutions, especially without knowing the full story and circumstances. Wildlife conflict resolution involves many steps, with a critical goal of an end result that does not harm animals and prevents the conflict from happening again.

The more these “humane remedies” are bandied about the more they risk failing. Any failure results in less respect and traction for the HWCO industry to prevail and change the paradigm. (The conventional trapping industry loves it when a humane idea fails, and they love to talk about that time it failed as if it always fails.)

3) Do not rush to get babies to a rehabilitator until it is the absolute last resort. Job #1 is to reunite healthy babies with their mothers. Please know your limitations on advising reuniting steps. What works for one age may be unsafe for another age, etc. Nothing feels more awesome than succeeding with a reunite! ❤

Never accept assertions that “there’s no mother around.” Push for more information; more often than not this reveals the possibility she still is.

4) Change your state “nuisance” rules and regulations, get engaged. As long as the rules allow our wildlife to be killed/removed merely for being seen, we are all failing. By all of us, I mean every human on this planet. Every advocate, every “science-abiding” state agency, every animal control law enforcement department charged with upholding state animal cruelty statutes, and every conventional operator selling the worst (the least effective and most expensive) services/solutions to uninformed consumers.

Change starts with you! ❤

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.

What to Do When You See an Opossum in Trouble on the Road

Help! There’s an injured or possibly dead opossum in the road. What should I do?

If you can safely do so, it’s generally a good idea to stop when you find an animal in the road, whether the animal is dead or alive. Helping a live animal off the road and getting the animal into care – even if the only care option is euthanasia – is the right thing to do. Moving a dead animal out of the road will decrease the chances that animals scavenging the body will themselves become victims of a vehicle strike. (It’s important to always have sturdy gloves in your car for just this need.)

Opossums present a special case, as they are marsupials. In fact, they’re the only marsupial in North America! As such, an injured or dead opossum may be a mother with babies in her pouch.

If the opossum is in the road, move him/her to the shoulder.

If the animal is alive, get him/her into a box or other carrier and use Animal Help Now’s wildlife emergency service app to find the nearest emergency assistance.

If you are uncertain whether or not the animal is alive, gently touch the animal’s back feet and eyes and face, check for any movement as you do so. If the animal is alive, get her into a box or other carrier and use Animal Help Now’s wildlife emergency service to find the nearest emergency assistance.

If the animal is dead and has a pouch, check for babies in the pouch. You can do so by gently lifting up the skin on the pouch and peeking inside. If there are babies in the pouch, you will need to take the mom’s body as is to a rehabilitator.

Note: If for some reason taking the mom’s body is not possible, you can transfer the babies to a warm container or carrier with a towel or blanket, but this is an extremely delicate procedure.

We suggest keeping an animal rescue kit (https://ahnow.org/kits) in your vehicle.

Animal Help Now makes finding a wildlife rehabilitator easier than ever. AHNow’s wildlife emergency service is available on the web at www.AHNow.org and as a free smartphone app (iPhone and Android).

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/.

Leave injured wildlife alone?! On what planet???

Two writers for the Dear Science section of the Washington Post stated today that injured and “lost” wildlife should be left alone. The authors correctly write that many young animals who appear to be orphaned are simply being left alone while Mom is out getting food or distracting predators. They also correctly state that helping distressed wildlife can be dangerous and should involve professional help.

But somehow they convince themselves that a bird hitting a window is part of a natural process. Their conclusion references a quote by Don Despain, a retired National Parks Service ecologist. Here the authors liken a typical human urban environment with the relatively intact Yellowstone ecosystem:

In nature, an injured animal — say, the bird in your back yard with a broken wing — will become food for a predator — perhaps an owl. The remains that the owl doesn’t eat will go on to feed microbes that fertilize the soil, which in turn gives rise to new plants, which will feed the insects that become a meal for future birds. This whole system is the “wildness” that Despain speaks of. It’s worth thinking about the next time you come across an injured bird.

Rescue scenario of bird injured from window strike
                          Let him suffer and die? No!

Actually, it’s not worth thinking about. That’s time wasted that could be spent trying to save the bird’s life. Here’s our response, published in the comments section:

Dear Science, we couldn’t agree more about the dangers of “kidnapping” young wild animals whose parents are simply out of sight. And we couldn’t agree less about the conclusion you’ve come to regarding letting nature take its course. Prof Daniel Klem states in peer-reviewed literature that about one billion birds are killed by striking windows in the United States each year. Prof Klem estimates that another billion are injured. That’s 30 per second killed, and another 30 per second injured. Surely nature can’t be so out of balance as to benefit from this anthropogenic disaster. Another billion small mammals are killed by cats in this country every year. Two billion birds. And another 500,000 animals are killed in the U.S. every day by motor vehicle strikes. So we should let the millions of survivors suffer and die? No! We should try our best to help them. This country has an amazing network of wildlife emergency professionals who can help us. As you rightly point out, it’s very important to bring them in as soon as possible on an emergency. To help you find them, our nonprofit humbly suggests using our website (AnimalHelpNow.org) or our phone app.

The authors downplay the value of helping individual animals and instead regurgitate the tired assertion that conservation is about populations. Yet we all should know the unfortunate truth that a species’ long-term chance of survival usually depends at least to some degree on a human or group of humans ascribing value to it. Welcome to the Anthropocene, Science.