Wednesday, October 27, 2010

To trap or not to trap, that is the question

A phone call I received today was a rather unique one. The woman had gone to her basement door last night to see what her dog was getting excited about and when she opened it a small creature streaked past her and into the basement. At some point this morning he had found his way upstairs and into a bathroom which is where she trapped it as she made her phone call for advice.

Normally we don’t recommend using the “answer to every problem” live-trap to solve conflicts between people and their wild neighbors. This situation proved difficult however, as the animal was clearly hiding in a room far from the nearest outdoor exit in a house with 2 large dogs.

We determined that the wayward creature was likely a weasel. The plan was to locate a very small live-trap baited with canned cat food and place it in the closed room. In these situations we always advise homeowners to do their best to locate the point of entry and close it if they can (in this case it was a coincidence involving a door so it was an easy solution) and then release the animal to a safe corner of their property. We’ll come back to this story in a moment.

The next call I received was from a woman who had a Virginia Opossum in a live-trap. She had successfully trapped and “relocated” 3 in the past week and wondered if there was something less time-consuming that could relieve her of the midnight garbage raiders. Our conversation was a helpful one; I explained to her that not only was relocating these animals a lot of work for her, but it was also not the best solution – nor legal! After our discussion, she had a number of recommendations that she was going to set out to implement. Because the animals were getting into the trash, other than putting straps, locks or bungee cords on the container, one option was for her to contact her waste disposal company to find out if she could exchange her current receptacle for a clean, new one that didn’t have such a strong odor, or barring that, taking the time to thoroughly clean the one she was using. She was also going to try leaving the lights on in the area the receptacles were kept to force any potential raiders to commit their crimes in the light. Because she was not providing any other food sources (neither her nor her immediate neighbors were feeding birds or other pets outdoors) these few tactics should do the trick.

Opossums are by nature nomadic and they generally only stay in one area if they consistently find food there. They are not picky when it comes to food, but if they can’t find enough they will move on to other areas where they can. Keeping up food and implementing small things that change the landscape that animals are used to or startle them when they least expect it are often all it takes to solve conflicts in a humane manner. Even if being humane isn’t your top priority (why are you reading this blog then?), the safety, hassle and legality of trapping and relocating animals should be.

The second woman thanked me for all of the information and I think that she will have a much better week now. Back to the first caller. Shortly after we talked she had gone to the bathroom to check on the status of her uninvited guest and brought with her a heavy bag and a piece of bologna. When she opened the door he was peering around a corner at her so she instinctively tossed the bologna into the bag and held it in the doorway in front of her. Surprisingly, he was hungry enough to be fooled with her behind the door and voluntarily walked right into the bag to enjoy his feast. She was able to safely bring him to the long grassy area in the back of her property and release him back to his home and duty of controlling the rodent population there.

Two different traps, two different reasons, and at least two happy endings. If you have a friend or a neighbor experiencing conflicts with their wild neighbors and considering using a trap to solve them, suggest that they give their nearest wildlife rehabilitator a call for advise that may be better for both them and the animals.

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