Q&A: Wildlife official educates Scottsdale residents on wild animals

Photo by Arianna Grainey

As spring births the resurgence of native wildlife neighbors resurfacing — rummaging through trash, stealing goods and pursuing pets — the city of Scottsdale warns residents to be cautious.

A caution warning recently issued advised of native wildlife active in the community such as bobcats, coyotes, javelina, raccoons and skunks roaming in neighborhoods this time of year, according to city of Scottsdale officials.

Despite what was once the natural habitats of many indigenous animals, residents are asked to help discourage urban wildlife from living in the area by removing what’s considered essentials of wildlife habitat: namely water, food and shelter.

People are even encouraged to learn more about Arizona’s wildlife and how to live with them as recommended by the Arizona Game and Fish Department at: AZGFD.gov.

“We get a lot of calls about wildlife,” said Arizona Game and Fish Department Spokesman Bill Andres during a March phone interview. “There are a lot of communities in Arizona built in the middle of their habitats.”

Mr. Andres mentioned the numerous reptiles, mammals and birds native to the state. It is not uncommon for the department to receive a lot of calls from people asking if it is OK to feed the wildlife, which “is illegal in parts of Arizona,” he says.

“We view feeding wildlife as being a selfish act to lure them in to their communities,” he said.

He says residents ask him if they can “feed the Javelina on the back porch,” and hears accounts of people feeding animals Cheerios, gummy bears and even lettuce to some animals requiring meat, although they have “no good idea of the animals’ nutritional needs.”

He cited a case of somebody living with a baby deer that was reportedly abandoned and kept in a double-wide.

Dinner with Wolves

Arizona Game and Fish Department works closely with wildlife rehab organizations such as the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center. (file photo)

The Independent reached out to Mr. Andres to learn more, here’s what he had to say:

•What wild animals are often found in the Scottsdale and surrounding areas that residents are cautioned about during this time of year?

There are hundreds of different wildlife species that can be seen in areas of Scottsdale at this time of year. From reptiles and snakes to migratory birds (such as hawks, songbirds, geese) to small mammals like rabbits, ground squirrels, skunks, and larger animals like bobcats, coyotes, deer, javelina and the occasional mountain lion or bear. Scottsdale is a wildlife viewers’ paradise.

•What should people know about approaching these animals? Are they supposed to call your organization?

What’s the protocol? Our best advice is always to leave wildlife alone. They are evolved to take care of themselves and rarely need human assistance. People love to live on the desert, or its edges, and seeing wildlife shouldn’t be a surprise. If you see an animal in trouble (such as sickness or injury), or if an animal has become a nuisance, we may respond and come see what’s going on. But generally, we encourage everyone to “keep wildlife wild” and leave them alone.

•What about the food that people are feeding wild animals such as the ‘Cheerios’ and ‘lettuce?’

It’s illegal in Arizona’s more populous counties to feed wildlife, and that applies in Maricopa County. You can feed birds, but be aware that overfilling your bird feeder can spill seed on the ground, and that can attract mice, rats, rabbits, and squirrels who might be better off in the wild. Once you have attracted rodents, you’ll likely start seeing the critters that eat rodents, like coyotes, rattlesnakes or bobcats. If the coyotes start coming around, people’s smaller pets will be in danger of getting eaten. If you spill enough food onto the ground, you may even attract javelinas, which means you might start attracting animals that eat javelinas such as coyotes or mountain lions. So be aware of unintended consequences.

•What are the dangers of the cohabitations of wildlife with humans besides being part of the food chain?

Every year, someone sees a baby animal in the wild and assumes it has been orphaned. They pick it up and take it home, and for many wild animals, that’s a death sentence. Either people will feed it non-nutritious foods and it will slowly starve or it will just die from being in captivity. Another unintended consequence… that cute little baby deer fawn that you kidnap from the wild may grow into a large adult buck with antlers that can gore or kill people or pets. We see people injured almost every year by bucks or bull elk that have become use to getting handouts. When you refuse to feed them, they attack and injure people and must be put down. Relocating a nuisance animal that has become used to human foods and human contact never works because they come back into town… because that’s all they know. Again: the best answer is to “Keep Wildlife Wild.”

•Any success stories and sad stories you can recall about dealing with wildlife issues?

Some of the best success stories are when we’re able to rescue a critter from a bad situation and give it a new chance at life. Our Wildlife Center regularly rehabs animals that are brought in, but some can never be released back into the wild because they’ve been injured or have been imprinted by humans. We find zoos or wildlife sanctuaries to take in all kinds of animals, from mountain lions and bobcats to otters and owls. You can support our work by donating to the Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Center… just text “CRITTER” to 41444 on your cell phone. It’s a great way to help Arizona wildlife.

•Does your agency respond to communities with a truck to haul off the animals like with Animal Control?

We usually decide such issues on a case-by-case basis. It’s often best to let the animals work themselves out of danger, but when there’s a nuisance critter (like a bear that’s learned to dumpster dive) we’ll evaluate its chances of survival in the wild. We’ve relocated bears 50 miles from where they were being a nuisance, and they’re back in the same dumpster in a matter of days. Such animals will need to be permanently removed because one day, a human will get between them and their food source and the human will get attacked, injured or killed. And there is nothing romantic, noble or humane about sentencing a bear to a life of eating people’s garbage.

•If someone had a dead coyote in front of their home and didn’t know what to do, is that something your agency responds to, ie: dead wild animals?

There are literally millions of animals in Arizona, and every one of them eventually dies. We usually let nature remove the carcass (remember: a dead elk carcass means for food opportunity for bears, mountain lions, wolves, skunks, coyotes, crows, vultures, condors, insects, etc.) but if something big dies in your neighborhood, call your city’s public works department.

•What’s an average day like for the organization?

Every day brings different challenges and opportunities. If you like variety and excitement and you love wildlife, there isn’t a better job in the world. We have 620 hard-working state employees who absolutely love what they do for a living.

•Does your agency work closely with rescue organizations and do you refer people to contact them?

Yes. We can’t take in every injured bird, reptile, rabbit or ruminant, so we work closely with wildlife rehab organizations all over the state. There are some great rehab organizations in Scottsdale.

•Are there more reported cases of wildlife attacking domestic animals rather than humans?

Sure. A hungry owl or bobcat is going to go after smaller pets and likely won’t attack a full grown human. Coyotes see domestic dogs as their enemies (and cats as a good meal), but they rarely attack a human unless the human is foolish enough to get close or try to feed it. I heard recently from a friend who’s been seeing a pair of Harris hawks circling her pet rabbits’ hutch. Like everything in nature, wild animals are constantly in search of their next meal.

Northeast Valley Editorial Assistant Delarita Ford can be reached by e-mail at dford@newszap.com.

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