Tracks and Tales: The importance of loving wildlife from a distance

By Pamela Holz, Washington County Conservation Board naturalist


Trying to do good, or just not thinking ahead, can result in unintended disastrous consequences.

A friend of mine is having a nuisance wildlife issue. He tried live-trapping the animal, but it figured out how to first trigger the trap, then get at the food. Despite his reluctance to do so, he?s afraid he?ll have to shoot it.

My friend fully accepts wildlife visits as the price (or benefit) of living out in the country. He openly accepts what comes to his backyard.

This raccoon, on the other hand, is a different story. It has already attacked the local stray cats. But even more worryingly, it acts atypical. You can?t shoo or scare it away, like most wild animals. It appears more often during daylight hours. It carries itself around his backyard with a confidence and sense of ownership not usually seen in wildlife near human habitation.

This type of behavior can indicate a potential rabies case and many would have immediately killed the animal just to be safe. My friend has kept an eye on its behavior which fortunately is not typical rabies-like. However, he is concerned for his dogs and young children. What if it attacks them?

The bite itself is not the only concern. For one, it is a death sentence for that individual animal. Raccoons are a main carrier of rabies, and the only way to test it is to examine the brain. And if it?s positive? Who wants to tell a four year old he has to get shots?

In addition, raccoons can carry both canine and feline distemper. They have their own roundworm which can wiggle its way to other hosts. An active, fearless raccoon is not something you want loitering around in your backyard.

This situation frustrates me. More likely than not, this particular individual had significant contact with humans. The most probable scenario is it was raised as a pet or ?rescued? as a baby. When it became unmanageable or considered old enough to be on its own, it was dumped in the countryside to ?be free.? Whoever these people were, however much they love wildlife, they created a situation where the object of their affection is most certain to die because of their actions.

This type of situation probably happens more often than we can possibly know or even can imagine.

Wild animals are always wild. Taming them does not eliminate the wild instinct, which can, and will, kick in in detrimental ways. It also adds the concern of them becoming accustomed to humans. This makes their behavior unpredictable and potentially threatening (think of the bears out West). Animal babies rescued may also not have learned the skills to survive on their own as adults. More often than not, these situations result in the death of the animal one way or the other.

Loving something does not always mean needing to hold and cuddle.

Loving something does not always mean trying to help. We have laws concerning wildlife as pets (a definite no) and who can care for those injured or orphan. These laws are not just to protect us, but also the animals.

If you truly, honestly love them, enjoy them from a safe distance and respect their boundaries.

If you want to help, support wildlife conservation legislation, donate to a wildlife rehabilitator or other wildlife organizations, and ? this is the big one ? when you find that precious baby animal on your hike, leave it alone. Always, leave it alone. Don?t make that adorable critter just one