Where the Wild Things Roam…Look…But Don’t Touch!
By Victoria Elliott
Where the Wild Things Roam…Look…But Don’t Touch!
For many people, summertime means venturing into the great outdoors to enjoy the long days, sunshine, and to soak in all the natural world has to offer before autumn comes back around and the days grow cold again. Whether it’s camping with friends in the Shenandoah Mountains, spending a relaxing day on the lake fishing, taking a long hike on the Mount Vernon Trail, or visiting a nearby National Park (of which there are so many to choose), one fact remains: with the outdoors comes all the animals that call the outdoors their home. Our area is home to a variety of wildlife: deer, possum, raccoon, squirrel, fox, and bats, among many others. As visitors to their home, it’s our responsibility to include wildlife safety in our summertime plans.
Wildlife safety is a two-way street. While what first comes to mind may be precautions to take against harm from a wild animal attack, it’s equally as – if not more so – important to consider the impact that your presence has on wild animals and to take precautions to avoid causing harm to any wildlife you may encounter while enjoying your time outdoors.
Keep your distance
For the sake of your safety, as well as that of the wildlife, keep your distance and observe from afar. While many wild animals are beautiful to behold, especially in their natural habitat, keep in mind that they are wild. In some wild animals, contact with humans can cause rejection by other animals in their family or group. Additionally, there are illnesses that can pass to and from people, pets and wildlife, so ensure you and your pets are healthy and well before venturing out – and that you stay out of direct contact with any wild animals you may see.
Humane Rescue Alliance recommends keeping 50 feet between you and wildlife – so, imagine roughly the distance of three mid-sized cars between you and the animal as you observe it or take photographs.
Clean up your trash
Consider how you leave your campsite or picnic area when it’s time to pack up at the end of the day. Clean up any items that you brought outside. Trash, such as plastic six-pack holders and fishing line, can be deadly to an animal who gets tangled up in it, so cut it up before disposing of it in a secure location. Balloons are another frequent danger to animals, who can either mistakenly ingest pieces thinking that it is food or become tangled in the string.
If hunting is part of your summertime activities, take time to educate yourself about lead toxicity. If you use lead bullets, ensure that you dispose of all animal parts securely. Lead toxicity is a danger for birds of prey (e.g, eagles, vultures, owls) who are scavengers and may ingest left-behind or ineffectively disposed of game. Consider using non-lead bullets as an alternative.
Avoid feeding the wildlife
Either by directly offering a wild animal a piece of your food or by indirectly leaving behind waste, feeding wildlife can be a danger both to you and to the animal.
Once you’re done for the day, ensure that all food items are disposed of in a secure disposal site that cannot be easily disturbed. Think raccoons rooting through loosely closed trashcans for a midnight snack. Animals who repeatedly find – or are given – human food can become dependent on food that is not a part of their naturally occurring diet –this is called “food conditioning.” These animals can become dependent on humans to provide food and they may even become aggressive in seeking it out.
Ineffectively disposed of food can attract animals to unsafe (for us or for them) locations. The Wildlife Center of Virginia shares a story, “The Message of the Apple Core,” to illustrate the danger of discarded food attracting wild animals. In the story, a man driving along the road throws an apple core out of his car, not thinking it can cause any damage – it will just decompose, so what’s the harm? While the core itself doesn’t cause any damage to the environment, it attracts a possum to the side of the road later that evening. Another driver, not seeing the animal, strikes it and injures or kills it. The message that the Wildlife Center of Virginia intends to convey is clear: “No litter is ‘safe’ litter.”
Call for help
You’re walking along the path of the trail and see an animal by itself, during the daytime, not running away from you when it sees you – perhaps it looks ill, or maybe just young and possibly abandoned. You’re concerned and want to do what is best for the animal. If you see an abandoned or injured animal that you’re concerned about, reach out to a trained wildlife professional. Doing so protects yourself from harm from a possibly scared and/or injured animal, as well as ensures expert care for the animal that is possibly in need.
Summer provides many outlets for enjoying the outdoors and observing wildlife in their natural habitat. With just a few precautions as part of your planning, your day out in nature can be safe for you and the wildlife whose home you’re visiting.
About the Author: Victoria Elliott is an animal rescue advocate. She lives in Alexandria with two brown tabby boys of her own.
Statewide: Wildlife Center of Virginia – 540-942-9453
Richmond: Area Rehabbers Klub (ARK) – 804-598-8380
Northern Virginia: Wildlife Rescue League (WRL) – 703-440-0800
Hampton Roads: Wildlife Response Inc. (WRI) – 757-543-7000
Winchester: Blue Ridge Wildlife Center – 540-837-9000
Roanoke: Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke – 540-798-9836
In addition to the above regional associations, the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries can provide a full listing of licensed wildlife rehabilitators.