by Anne Drummond
In mid-June, the Saanich municipality voted to discontinue the use of anticoagulant rodenticides in all of their facilities. The motivation for discontinuing the use of these highly toxic rodenticides was evidence that owls, raccoons, and other wildlife were also being killed by ingesting poisoned rodents. Mayor Haynes is hoping that Saanich will be setting an example to inspire other municipalities to follow suit.
While the Saanich Council is to be applauded for this humane decision, nonetheless the alternatives to rat poison still remain lethal and in the long term do nothing to change the rat/human conflict.
Rats, and mice, are intelligent, devoted parents and loyal spouses, do they really deserve the death penalty for simply trying to get on in a challenging world? It seems that it is easier to use lethal methods to control animals than for humans to change their behaviour; because in the end, all human-animal conflict is about habitat destruction—we humans are taking way more than our fair share of available resources.
A United Nations report released in 2019 reveals that at least a million plant and animal species will be extinct within decades, this, the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event can be squarely laid in the hands of mankind. The major factors responsible for the decline of species are habitat destruction and climate change.
Traditional conservation focusses on selected species and populations without considering the well being of individual animals or the ethics involved. The North American model of conservation in particular has a rather egregious track record of the mass killing of one species to preserve another species which is considered to be of greater value to humans. For example, the BC wolf cull, the killing of seals and birds accused of diminishing fish stocks, and the controversial goose cull in Denver CO, to name but a few. These strategies have not only ignored the wider effects on communities and ecosystems but paid no attention to the suffering of individuals involved in the cull. As we move deeper into the Anthropocene and an increasing rate of extinction we need another way to manage human-wildlife conflict.
Compassionate conservation recognizes that all animals are sentient beings and aims to protect Earth’s biodiversity while treating individual animals with respect and concern for their welfare. Following the guiding principles of: do no harm, individuals matter, inclusivity, and peaceful coexistence. No matter whether a species is rare or not, of value to humans or not, native or not, all animals have intrinsic value. Compassionate conservation offers a different approach to how we deal with animals in the light of what we know and continue to learn about the cognitive and emotional capacities of other animals. Furthermore, it is increasingly acknowledged that the health and welfare of humans are closely connected to the welfare of animals and the environment we all need in order to survive.
The daily activities of humans—in our homes, agriculture, parks, and cities—cause considerable harm to wildlife. Less well known is the harm to wildlife in the name of conservation via culling, trapping, relocation, or captivity. Culling/killing wildlife is not a scientifically proven way to manage wildlife populations. In many instances and in particular among urban wildlife, as you kill individuals others will move into the vacated opportunity—this is what keeps pest control companies in business!
Killing animals causes suffering and pain and young pups/nestlings/fawns may die when their parents do not return to feed them. Furthermore killing individuals destabilizes groups and communities. This is an important point because a stable family group or community is more amenable to behaviour modification thus making coexistence more feasible.
Yes, that rat/raccoon in your garden may be a nuisance, but before you consider lethal control ask yourself the following questions. Is it:
- Justified: in other words are you sure there is a problem (the simple presence of an animal does not equate with it being a problem), is it the right thing to do or might there be other less harmful solutions, is it really reasonable to kill an animal simply for being in your garden?
- Humane: can you kill this animal without causing excessive pain and suffering, or could you find a non-lethal solution, do you feel sympathy for the animal, can you generate kindness and attempt peaceful coexistence?
- Effective: will killing this animal have the desired effect?
So after considering those questions perhaps now you’re not ready to kill the rat in your garden, having decided that it is innocent until proven guilty—but nonetheless you are wary about this idea of peaceful coexistence.
Yes rodents and raccoons can cause structural damage, yes they are capable of carrying bacteria and viruses but the simple presence of these animals does not necessarily mean harm and disease are guaranteed. In principle, any animal can carry a disease that humans could catch but in reality, 99.999% of pathogens carried by animals will not infect people. By comparison, 60% of all human pathogens can infect animals. If your interactions with animals involve little more than feeding the dog, putting seeds out for birds, and shooing away the squirrels you are unlikely to contract a zoonotic infection—walking into a hospital or a doctor’s office is far riskier.
Peaceful coexistence involves tolerance and understanding and both parties’ needs being met. Accepting that we play a role in human-wildlife conflicts is a big start, so keep your home secure—check for gaps where animals may enter your roof/walls, and keep branches off your roof to limit access to attics, windows, and vents. Look for greasy, smudgy rub marks which indicate routes used by rodents—disrupt these routes by cleaning with bleach, but also use them as indicators to the ways they may be getting into your house or shed. Rats and raccoons respond to hazing, so bang pots to make loud noises, squirt them with water, be a crazy banshee. Don’t leave piles of junk around as these are prime real estate for rats and raccoons, and don’t leave dog food or cat food outside—that is literally a gilt-edged dinner invitation. Basically, if you limit the food and shelter opportunities in your garden rodents are less likely to make a home there. That said, rodents are everywhere and if you can accept their presence at a distance, then just leave them be.
These are difficult times and animal populations are as stressed as we are; COVID-19, climate change, the state of the economy, political upheaval- it takes its toll on all the Earth’s inhabitants. We as individuals here in Victoria may not be able to bring about global change but we can start with our own hearts and practice more compassion and respect for all the sentient beings that we share the planet with.
Humans aren’t the only species whose “tweens” that are itching for more independence but perhaps lack a bit of experience. Tween fawns aren’t much different.
While young fawns tend to stay close to mom, as they get a little older they start to become a little more independent.
“We really encourage drivers and cyclists to be mindful all the time, but now especially to be a little more cautious – when you see a doe walk out, a fawn or two will often follow behind, it just may take a little longer to see them now,” explains Kristy Kilpatrick, President of the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society.
“There really can be quite a distance between the doe and fawn, so cars that have slowed down for the doe think the coast is clear; as they begin to accelerate, the fawn jumps out to follow its mother.”
Be especially vigilant around dawn and dusk, when deer tend to be more active and when it’s more difficult to see them. Headlights can also confuse deer, causing them to freeze or act unpredictably. To reduce your chance of colliding with a deer, slow down and scan ahead, particularly in areas deer are known to frequent.
Residents can help spread awareness that deer are in the neighbourhood by picking up a free lawn sign from the Township of Esquimalt or by contacting the UWSS, Kilpatrick says.
And because deer see dogs as a threat—no matter how well behaved or small your dog—keep Fido leashed and walking close to you to prevent unwanted interactions. Dogs can also startle deer, prompting them (both the deer and the dog) to dart out into traffic.
While most fawns are born in late spring and early summer, some later births are still possible. Because does shelter fawns from predators, leaving for long periods to forage, wildlife centres like the BC SPCA’s WildARC typically advise residents to leave “orphaned fawns” alone – the mother is likely nearby and will return once you leave.
If the fawn appears cold, weak, thin, injured, is bleating repetitively, or if the mother has not returned to a seemingly healthy fawn for more than eight hours, call WildArc. DO NOT remove the fawn on your own—if you have inadvertently handled the animal, rub an old towel on the grass, then gently wipe the fawn down to remove human scent.
As UWSS continues to monitor Oak Bay’s immuno-contraception program and track how many fawns are born this year to both the control group and the IC-vaccinated does, it underscores the importance of research in any deer management plan, Kilpatrick says. “While the Oak Bay project will help inform future decisions about immuno-contraception and deer management, research unique to each community is essential for an effective plan.”
by Anne Drummond
We are living in strange and uncertain times; forest fires, floods, and other manifestations of climate change along with the social, economic, and ecological problems associated with an ever-increasing human population. Then the current COVID-19 pandemic which has touched most humans on the planet, and probably left animals wondering what is going on with us.
As our knowledge of the science of this pandemic grows, so too do the questions. Every country, every community, and every family are asking what now, what will change, and more importantly what needs to change? The more specific questions will reach into every facet of human life and have the potential to bring positive change to our societies and by extension to the planet. Because, although we are focused on our own safety and well-being we should also remember that our fortunes are intertwined with those of all living organisms on earth.
For biologists and naturalists the world over, a bright light shining through the gloom has been the anecdotes and photographic evidence of nature taking to the streets and other spaces vacated by humans—no more living in the shadows, animals are claiming space. In addition, at home and with time to spare, more and more people are noticing the urban wildlife around them. Can we as the UWSS, individuals, households, urban and rural communities take this increasing awareness of wildlife along with the urgency to address climate change and turn it into more effective stewardship of our beautiful planet?
Stewardship is a word we hear frequently but what exactly do we mean? In essence, stewardship refers to the responsible use and protection of natural environments and incorporates conservation and sustainable practices. However, that said, stewardship has many faces and not all of them are pretty.
While there is no discounting that commitment, passion, and work by many people has resulted in the preservation and conservation of land, wildlife, and ecosystems, stewardship has for a greater part had an economic basis and has been human-centred. The environment provides resources which have monetary value and we want to exploit these, so we take care of the resource we wish to exploit but have little care for the remainder of the system or for the consequences of our exploitation. This has led to the rise of industrial-scale farming, destructive mining practices, deforestation, exploitation of the rivers and oceans.
Aldo Leopold, regarded by many as the father of wildlife ecology and the USA wilderness system, wrote the Sand Country Almanac in response to the economic and libertarian-based land ethics, where only aspects of the environment useful to humans were preserved. In this book of essays, he proposed a land ethic (a framework guiding how people regard the land) that called for a more caring and morally responsible relationship between people and nature. His ecologically-based land ethic stems from the principle that the land, air, and water as well as all living organisms have intrinsic value, not just value to people.
In Leopold’s land ethic he maintains that “when we see land (nature) as a community to which we belong – we may begin to use it with love and respect”. His vision thus changes the human role from one of dominance to being but one of the many citizens of the community of nature.
While this may seem like a vague and perhaps even whimsical philosophy to some, delving deeper into how we view nature—the language we use, the actions and behaviours we engage in, the fears and expectations that we have—it is not difficult to see that we often neglect to consider the needs of the wild creatures and the land itself. There is little doubt that a more caring relationship between people and nature would bring great benefits to both parties. While as individuals we may not be able to bring about change on a large scale, we can, through our actions, all foster a more caring relationship with the urban wildlife around us.
Perhaps the most crucial thing we can do for wildlife is to preserve or create habitat wherever we can, thus making it possible for wild creatures to coexist with us.
This can take many forms including:
- Creating brush piles and encourage wild areas for shelter in your garden,
- Don’t rake up leaves, leave them in the beds as winter mulch and the insects and invertebrates the leaves attract provide protein-rich food for birds in the spring,
- Plant bird and insect-friendly plants
- Don’t remove trees unless they are a safety hazard as every mature tree, particularly evergreens, are home to many birds, invertebrates and small mammals,
- Let your lawn become wild, or plant wildflower lawns or dig it up and plant trees, shrubs, and flowering plants
- Only prune hedges, trees, and shrubs well before or well after birds have nested
- Avoid pesticides, herbicides or poisons
- Maintain hummingbird feeders and even seed feeders during the winter
- Provide clean water for birds and animals
And of course, keeping cats indoors and teaching dogs and children not to harass wildlife creates a safer environment for them.
Key to the development of a more respectful and caring relationship with nature is understanding the needs of wild creatures. which in turn has its root in observation. So this is an invitation to set up the deck chair on the lawn or take up a comfy spot on the lakeshore, bring your tea and simply observe, follow ants as they wend their way through the grass, watch the ducks protecting their young while still trying to feed, notice the sentry bird on the edge of bird feeding parties, learn the alarm call of a Towhee, notice all the different pollinators in action on flowering plants. Ask questions, find answers, and seek to understand and then protect.