Using Freedom of information Laws in Wildlife Advocacy

Center for Wildlife Ethics published a practice guide and case study entitled "Using Freedom of Information Laws in Wildlife Advocacy" in the Fall 2013 issue of the American Bar Association's Animal Law Committee Journal. Read more here: 

Using Freedom of Information Laws in Wildlife Advocacy - by Laura Nirenberg, Esq. and Trevor DeSane, Esq.

Full Journal, Fall 2013

Urban Wildlife Myths

Photo by Yan Ruan 2015

Photo by Yan Ruan 2015

Myth # 1: If you find a fawn alone, she has been orphaned.

Fact: It is quite common to see fawns alone. The babies, lacking any scent to attract predators and incapable of keeping up with the doe in dangerous situations, are essentially “parked” in various (quite often, peculiar) locations. The doe will visit the fawn two to three times a day.Until the fawn is four weeks old, you will rarely see it with the mother. Instead, the fawn relies on camouflage and lying still for protection during this vulnerable period. It’s always best to leave fawns alone unless you know with certainty that the mother is dead and/or fawns are crying incessantly.

Myth #2:  Baby bunnies have been abandoned.
Fact: Mother rabbits only visit the babies 2-3 times per day to avoid attracting predators. If the nest is intact and there are no visible wounds, remove any pets and leave them there. When the eyes are open and they’re as big as the palm of your hand, they are independent. Mother rabbits are very sensitive to human scent so if you put a baby back, just use a clean towel to remove any odor. Rabbits breed between February and September with a 28 day gestation period. Consequently, three to four litters of four to five babies are born each year.

Myth # 3: If you touch a baby bird, the parents will abandon him/her.
Fact: Birds have a limited sense of smell, but are strongly bonded to their chicks. Parents will not abandon chicks handled by humans. The best thing humans can do if a baby bird falls from its nest, and is not well feathered and clearly learning how to fly, is to put him back in the nest. The parents will return to feed him. If the nest is destroyed, you can use a basket or a Cool Whip container. Simply punch holes in the bottom (to avoid drowning the babies when it rains), line the container with grass or the remaining nest, and tack up into the tree. (Be sure the container is not too deep as the parents are reluctant to fly into anything they can’t see out of.)

Myth #4: Feeding bread to geese and ducks is okay.
Fact: Bread is bad for all birds because it offers little nutritional value. Severe health problems, including a debilitating condition called “Angel Wing” can be caused by bread diets. Feeding can also lead to dependency in ducklings and goslings who fail to learn how to find native foods on their own. Some birds can even become aggressive about being fed which often leads to a tragic outcome if humans decide to remove them.

Myth # 5: Canada geese stick around because they forgot how to migrate.
Fact: Geese who live in one place year-round do so through no fault of their own. Our “resident” birds are descendants of captive-bred geese introduced by wildlife agencies over several decades to restore “huntable” populations. Geese were also released by people who thought they would simply look nice on their ponds. As a result, transplanted geese never learned to migrate from their parents, but still thrive in our suburban landscapes.

Myth # 6: If you see a raccoon during the day, he must be rabid.
Fact: Raccoons are opportunistic and will appear whenever food is around. Although normally nocturnal, it is not uncommon to see them during the day foraging for food, especially in spring and summer when the mother’s energy levels are depleted by nursing cubs.However, if the animal is acting disoriented or sick, such as circling, staggering or screeching — in addition to being seen during daylight hours — contact a wildlife rehabilitator or local animal control officer.

Myth #7: If you get close to a skunk, you’ll get sprayed.
Fact: It is actually pretty difficult for a person to get sprayed by a skunk. These animals only spray to defend themselves, such as when a dog runs up and grabs them. Skunks cannot “reload” quickly and do not waste their odiferous weapon unless necessary. Instead, they will stamp their front feet as a warning to get you to back off.  Skunks are also quite nearsighted so if one is encountered, simply talk softly and back away.

Myth # 8: Bats get tangled up in your hair if they fly near you.
Fact: The last place a bat wants to be is in your hair. Bats navigate using a complex sonar-like system called echolocation which allows them to “see” their world with precision. The misconception about bats flying in hair is based on a bat’s swooping flight patterns when trapped in a confined space, like a house. The reason they swoop is not to fly into your hair, but to stay airborne.

Myth #9: Opossums are vicious and rabid.
Fact: Opossums are the only marsupials North of Mexico and have more teeth (50 of them) than any other mammal in North America. The average female lives only about a year. Opossums are highly resistant to rabies, most likely due to their low body temperature. Opossums are also relatively benign creatures that defend themselves by hissing, teeth-baring, and drooling. These are not a sign of rabies but rather a bluff to scare off potential predators. When their act doesn’t work, they play dead.

Myth #10:  Live trapping and relocating wild animals is humane.
Fact: The majority of relocated territorial mammals do not survive.  In fact, in some states, it is illegal for people to relocate an animal.  Additionally, live-trapping can be indiscriminate and often fails to target the “nuisance” animal. Baiting a trap also attracts other animals to any given area – even those animals that don’t typically frequent that location. Equally important, this practice results in the orphaning of youngsters that succumb to starvation or predation.

Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife (December 2007, Humane Society Press) is a useful reference for individuals and communities faced with resolving encounters with wild animals who find their way into yards, gardens, houses, parks and playgrounds. On the web

Wildlife Conflicts and Resolutions

Wildlife conflicts – Proceed with caution when seeking a professional…

Traditional “pest control” companies often try to resolve wildlife “intrusion” problems by treating the symptoms rather than the problems. For instance, when a pest control operator removes a squirrel from your attic but fails to seal the squirrel’s entry holes, he simply leaves a cozy future nesting site for yet another squirrel.

This type of “quick-fix” – although touted as “humane removal” – often has dire results for the animals once removed off-site. Live-trapping and relocating wildlife is another “quick-fix” that doesn’t treat the underlying problems and often has dire results for the relocated animals who are unfamiliar with the location of available food sources and safe den sites. Relocated mammals are further disadvantaged when routinely chased out of these unfamiliar areas by resident animals who instinctively protect their territories from newcomers. Equally important, relocation may encourage disease transmission and is illegal in some states.

Preventing Intrusions

It can be a challenge to deal humanely with wildlife conflicts, but long-lasting benefits result when we change our thinking and refuse to accept inappropriate and environmentally irresponsible ways of dealing with wildlife conflicts. Many people are afraid of a wild animal, such as a raccoon or coyote, on their property. However, educating yourself about the natural behavior of wildlife helps you to determine if there is cause for concern.

Understanding a species’ natural behavior increases the success of permanent removal. Most complaints from people occur during the animals’ birthing season. For example, you may discover a raccoon with her babies in your attic. The mother animal purposely sought out a dark, quiet, peaceful environment to raise her young. Creating an inhospitable environment through the use of lighting, noise, and odors that are obnoxious and offending to wild animals persuades the mother to find a more suitable location in which to raise her family.

Once an animal has determined the environment is no longer conducive for family rearing, all necessary repairs must be made to prevent other animals from moving into this newly vacated niche.

Some of our conflicts with wildlife may be easily avoided if we change our own behavior. Removing food sources that make the location desirable is critical. Curtailing access to all potential den sites will also play favorably at reducing wildlife intrusions. Residents disturbed by raccoons raiding birdfeeders can bring in their birdfeeders at dusk, along with tarps or trays used for catching spilled seeds under the birdfeeders. Garbage cans are open invitations for raccoons or other hungry animals. Taking garbage cans out for pickup in the morning— after nocturnal animals have returned to their dens – is an easy solution. If you must place garbage out for collection in the evenings, tall, plastic garbage cans with twist-on lids are best, as raccoons are unable to gain access to these.
People who intentionally feed wildlife are often unaware that this kindness may be harmful for the animals. Human food sources may be unhealthy for wild animals, and these types of unnatural handouts may result in wild animals growing increasingly dependent on humans for routine meals.

Hiring animal removal services

If you are in the market to hire a wild animal control operator, please consider the following:

  • Does the operator adhere exclusively to non-lethal, humane alternatives for resolving conflicts permanently?
  • Is the operator licensed and how long has he/she been in business?
  • Does the operator listen closely to your concerns and description of the problem
  • Does the operator care about the welfare of both his customer and the animal(s) involved?
  • Will the operator provide a written estimate of services?
  • Will the operator provide “hands-on” removal and “on-site” release?
  • Does the operator reunite any youngsters disrupted by the eviction with their mother?
  • Does the operator explain the source of the problem and how the problem was created?
  • Is the operator bonded or insured in case of incidental damage?
  • Does the operator provide more than one alternative to resolving the conflict and are these alternatives humane?
  • Does the solution fix the problem permanently and is the work guaranteed?

Sources of information concerning wildlife conflicts and solutions:

AAA Wildlife Control specializes in exclusionary devices for dealing with wild animals. Visit their Web site at