Spring 2011 Magazine


By Sunny Aris

Did you leave your bird feeder out? Did you put scraps outside for the deer? Did you put 'deer corn' in the feeders on your tree, because you enjoy seeing deer frolic in the yard? Now you come home, and there's a bear in the driveway, or yard...or outside on your porch. What do you do? Here are some things to remember when living with wildlife.

"BE BIG! SOUND BIG!" is the advice given by expert wildlife biologist Larry Cordova of the United States Forest Service who serves with the Lincoln County, New Mexico Smokey Bear Ranger Station. In New Mexico, we have black bears. They come in many shades of brown, but they are still black bears. Most black bears are not aggressive, unless you get between them and a young cub. If you do upset them, they might employ a 'fake charge,' where they will come toward you and stop a few yards away.

Cordova was tracking owl activity one night in the forest when he encountered an adult bear on the trail. "I didn't move because I had nowhere to go. If he'd charged, I would have fallen down a cliff on the other side of the trail. I kept yelling the whole time. He stopped within 15 feet of me and started throwing dirt at me. I continued facing him. If you run, you become prey. Finally, he turned around and left," Cordova said.

When you encounter bears, try to make yourself look big and make lots of noise. If you have a jacket on, raise your arms, wave them, pull the coat out from around you and make it look as big as possible. Look and act menacing! "You can't help but have your heart rate going a mile a minute but stay calm," Cordova said.

"If you get between a food source and a bear, the bear will usually go around you. A big female bear met me on another trail one night. She also started throwing dirt at me. I backed up on the trail and waited until the bear made the first move. She went up the trail and we went around each other. By avoiding each other, it all worked out," Cordova said.

"After a disaster, people tell me, 'They're so cute.' Some wildlife is cute so people just don't 'get it. They continue to feed the bears and other animals," said Cordova. "People try to get close to bears to take photos. They want to get that 'once in a lifetime' shot. If there is a cub nearby, this could be fatal. Bears are not afraid of people. They will break into a home if they smell food. Finding a bear in your living room isn't fun. If tempting food aromas are drifting out of your house, close all your doors, not just the screen doors. Take your bird feeders in at night. Leaving bird seed out in a feeder will attract wildlife. Once a bear finds something he likes, he will come back. You don't want a bear to come back to your yard because of the threat of disease and the possibility of fatal encounters with your companion animals."

If you encounter a cougar, Cordova's advice is to keep eye contact with the cat, and back away slowly while making a lot of noise. A majority of cougar encounters that actually result in an attack happen because a person, such as a jogger, is running away and looks like prey. Do whatever you can to cause problems for the animal. If you're too much trouble, the cat might just give up and find easier prey.

Cordova often tracks wildlife at night to determine habitats, so he comes into frequent contact with wildlife. "My concern is that since we have too many deer in the community, we also have too many predators feeding on them. Mountain lions are a threat, because they follow the deer. Most wildlife is active at night. A predator comes through, checks out the area, and doesn't stay long. It only stays long enough to see what prey is available and track it. If there are outdoor companion animals around, a cougar will come back for those too. Bobcats and foxes also will grab companion animals."

"If you think deer are beautiful, care enough to leave them alone," Cordova said. The larger the deer population becomes, the larger the possibility that chronic wasting syndrome will become epidemic. "Some folks put out salt licks for the deer. Shared salt licks greatly increase the risk of shared diseases. Feeding corn to deer is harmful. Deer do not have the enzymes necessary to digest corn. The corn accumulates in their stomachs and they bloat. They may look fat, but it is actually bloat. Fawns are particularly at risk because they don't have the immune system to fight off the effects of the wrong food. Fawns aren't even used to normal food yet, as they've just been weaned."

Feeding deer may seem kind, but it creates a chain of problems for the animals. If people put food out, the deer change their feeding pattern and begin to rely on home feeding stations. In rural and seasonal communities, this causes many problems. For example, when tourists leave their summer homes, there is no more food, and the deer go back to the original feeding area. Often they find a new herd has moved into their feeding area. This causes aggression between the two herds, as they are both feeding on the same amount of food. Inappropriate feeding causes disease to spread and affects population size. There may be a 'die off' because of a high starvation rate and disease in the herds. This will lead to more predators in the area.

Remember when living with wildlife you need to follow sensible rules to keep yourself and the wildlife safe. If you do, it is possible to live in harmony with the wildlife in your area.

Sunny Aris is the co-founder of Animal Village NM and Kitty City. She will bring PETroglyphs' readers news from southern New Mexico.

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