Living with the Critters of the Lower Mainland

0
309
Skunks

Ray Hudson

With the return of the mild spring weather, along with the lilac and other perfumed flowers, there is often the intrusion of the perfume of the Western Spotted Skunk in the evening or early morning. This somewhat pastoral scene is idyllic until you have a pet that tangles with a skunk, a raccoon or a coyote, the three most common animals we share our environment with.

Skunks
Skunks

The hills are literally alive with the thousands of animals that cohabit with people in the urban environment. Some, like the squirrels are seen regularly on fences or scolding from the trees, while the raccoons and the skunks prefer to move about under the cover of darkness in the twilight before dawn and after sunset. Up the ladder are the larger creatures including the elusive coyote, the black bear and occasionally a cougar. The latter two are more often seen on the community borders against the mountains, and can represent a greater threat to safety.

“Even these animals however are still really about one thing, food,” said Lori Chortyk, General Manager of Community Relations for the BC SPCA.

Coyote
Coyote

For the most part these animals go about their existence without causing difficulty for the people of the community, however it is important that people respect that no matter how cute they are, they are still wild animals and should not be encouraged to interact with people.

Most people going about their lives in greater Vancouver will not have to deal with the larger wildlife, however there are still many thousands of skunks and raccoons to take up residence in back yard sheds, under porches and decks, and occasionally in someone’s attic.

“There are an estimated 3,000 coyotes in the Lower Mainland and they do very well in the urban settings, preferring the grasslands around communities,” said Chortyk.   “They’ve actually multiplied as developments clear the land for them. These animals are very smart, very playful, are actually from the same family, as dogs.”

Chortyk said coyotes are quite useful in our environment, feeding on rats and mice their scavenging keep us from being overrun by rodents in our urban areas.

Most of the time coyotes are shy and easily scared away, however an animal that has lost it’s fear of people, by people feeding them, or not securing garbage, may become a little more aggressive and have been known to attack cats and small dogs. According to the Stanley Park Ecology Society website, dogs are typically at lower risk than cats from coyote predation. However, coyotes have been known to prey on small dogs weighing less than 5 kg (10 lbs), and occasionally have lured, attacked, or stalked medium to larger dogs.

Chortyk said that most of the time, such an attack may be the result of a male dog being lured by the scent of a female coyote, and are attacked as rivals. Another good reason to ensure your animals are spayed or neutered.

Likewise skunks and raccoons benefit people by eating insects, larvae, grubs, small rodents. They are generally not a problem unless residents deliberately or inadvertently threaten their young.

“Skunks actually have very poor eyesight,” said Chortyk, “so usually they’re trying to back away from you, and it’s only when they feel they have no other options that they spray. If you give them any chance, skunks will prefer to move away from you.”

“With respect to raccoons,” she said, “they are highly habituated creatures of our neighbourhoods, capable of growing to thirty-five pounds. They often travel in family groups and if threatened can be quite aggressive, particularly male juveniles. If they get into a fight with your dog or your cat or even you, you’ll be on the losing end,”

Although we live in a very large, heavily developed region, there is still a great deal of habitat that can sustain significant populations of animals. They in turn offer the value of helping to keep other less agreeable creatures, including rats and mice, in check.

Chortyk suggests that proactive measures such as eliminating potential habitats around the residence and ensuring garbage is not accessible, keeping cats indoors, keeping small dogs leashed (after being spayed and neutered), and simply being aware that any wild animal offers some risk, so give them space and they’ll generally move on without any problems.

For more information go to www.spca.bc.ca