Written in 1997, Wild Animals is no less pertinent today. I picked it up largely out of curiosity, as I’m one of the ones that feels like I’ve generally learned to live with the vertebrate populations. I do occasionally wish the rabbits wouldn’t be quite so fond of my yard, although, to be totally honest, the real issue is my empathetic distress when my dogs wound or kill them. (I miss my rottweilers, who were generally lazy and preferred loads of loud barking over actual physical conflict). So I’ve already mastered strategy number one: learn to live with the animal. At any rate, it’s a solid book, full of general information for those who are new to the issue, say, new homeowners that never spent time re-reading wildlife magazines.
It’s divided into three sections, ‘Living With Wild Neighbors,’ an animal index, and various supporting appendixes. ‘Living With’ is a surprisingly well-balanced section. It begins with overall strategy, which follows a well-known problem-solving pathway of determine the problem, identify the damage, assess the seriousness of the damage, evaluate options and act. It’s good advice: my mom, for instance complains about the little vole pathways in the snow every year. Is it actual damage? No. Health issue? No. Solution is to stop feeding birds sloppy seed. Will she change? No. Maybe we should look for a book on Zen.
The authors note that a lot of apparent ‘conflicts’ may not be a conflict at all, but end up perceived as such because of a sighting. Many animals have larger territories and a sighting may be the result of an animal on a regular patrol. Another possibility it the dispersal of young seeking new territories. That’s were having environmental changes helps (lack of denning space, baffles, etc). There’s then an overview of types of agencies that might help someone take action and consideration of action in light of laws. Hint: you don’t get to randomly shoot stuff.
The section on ‘Health Concerns’ ignores the ‘fluffy bunny’ aspect of wildlife and goes straight for the jugular. Or should I say, the bubonic plague? Yes, that’s right–every year in the Southwest U.S. there is a case or two of plague, primarily flea-transmitted and then acquired through domestic pets exposed to fleas on rodents. Other familiar ones are chlamydia, salmonella and Lyme disease, as well as genuinely fearsome ones like the Hanta virus. There’s also brief information on how to clean bites (soap, running water, ER visits). Just in case you were getting the idea that you wanted to, you know, invite the critters into your home.
Most potentially interesting was a ‘Tools and Tactics’ section. I was hoping for something that actually evaluated some of the products out there–ultrasonic machines, scarecrows, baffles, sprays and the like. Most effective techniques rely on physical deterrents–covering the chimney, rabbit-proof fencing, caulking by power/water meters, etc. There’s a few notes on effectiveness, but no evidence provided of hard data. Occasionally, such as in the section about hair (deer/rabbits supposedly avoid it), it says, ‘it’s worth a try.’ No, it’s not–if it involves embarrassing myself by asking a a hair salon for a bag of hair, I want to be right, not weird. It lists common products, pesticides and stuff marketed as repellents. Here’s where being 20 years out of date is a weakness. But as I try to remind my mom–if spraying it kills something living and breathing, what, precisely, do you think it does to you?
The animal section will be familiar to anyone who owned one of those Guides to North American Animals (cough, cough). It divides into history, habitat, diet, reproduction, various problems, various solutions. Pictures are drawn, not photographed, sadly. It also contains animals that are common, but I marvel a little at a couple of the choices. I mean, if you are going to include cougars and bobcats, which are notoriously secretive and generally rare even in farm-like landscapes, you might as well include moose, which are slightly more common and as belligerent. Other animals are armadillos, bats, beavers, black bears, chipmunks, chimney swifts, mice, house sparrows, snakes, and woodpeckers, among others.
The appendixes include other sources of information, including HSUS and USDA offices, sources for products and a glossary. Sadly, I’m sure much of it is out of date. However, overall, not a bad introductory guide for the animal-naive homeowner who is dealing with various ‘somethings’ invading their territory and wants information on how to actually deal with the problem–if it is one.
Oh, and the section on rabbits says this about repellents: “Many homemade repellent strategies have been tried, with the usual varying results that taunt anyone trying to make real sense out of them. These include soap and hair as recommended sometimes for repelling deer. While we cannot endorse any of these procedures enthusiastically, they may be worth trying and certainly are an inexpensive form of entertainment if nothing else.”