Wildlife has adapted and so must humans
Recent photographs of a black bear peering through an Avon resident’s sliding glass door and video of a New London Police car tailing a coyote in broad daylight are helping ramp up fear and concern about potentially dangerous wildlife in the state. That two small dogs were snatched and killed by a coyote in the Whaling City further increased the urgency of those calling for the coyote’s head – literally.
Such wildlife encounters are startling and can sometimes have heartbreaking results when beloved pets are victims. Hysteria, however, is neither a useful nor an effective response. Wildlife species ranging from bears and coyotes to fishers and foxes have adapted and learned to live amongst us.
They will continue to do so, meaning that removing one animal will not eliminate the potential for further human- or pet-wildlife encounters.
The most productive human response instead is better education. The more we understand about our elusive (or sometimes even not-so-elusive) neighbors, the more effective humans can be at protecting pets and preventing yards from becoming all-you-can-eat buffets for unwelcome wildlife.
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection annually receives thousands of calls about so-called nuisance wildlife. Bears and coyotes are among the species triggering such calls. Both are examples of species particularly adept at re-establishing habitat in close proximity to regions densely populated by humans.
Coyotes were not reported in Connecticut until the 1950s, but now range throughout the state. While New Londoners may be surprised the animals are living in the city, the truth is coyotes also have been spotted in most of New York City’s boroughs and thrive in many suburban and urban locales.
Black bears are now regularly spotted in Connecticut. Some 6,700 bears were sighted in the state in 2016, according to DEEP data. Bears were spotted even in cities such as New Haven and Norwalk.
For these animals and others, it’s all about the food. Bird feeders, garbage cans, outdoor pet food dispensers and bowls and fruit trees are enticing targets. As such, the simplest and most common-sense steps to preventing unwanted wildlife encroachment are securing and enclosing trash cans and compost bins, removing bird feeders during warmer weather months and not feeding pets outdoors.
Remember, too, that wildlife have much keener senses of smell than do humans. They can smell even minute amounts of canned cat food from several blocks away.
Animals such as coyotes learn behavior patterns. They can come to understand, for example, that a small dog is consistently let outdoors unattended every night at about 10 p.m. If there is a brush pile or tall grass to hide in, or a deck to wait under until the animal predictably appears, the coyote may take the opportunity to attack.
Cats and small dogs are prey for wild carnivores and humans must take steps to protect their pets. Keep cats indoors. Keep dogs on leashes. Dogs should be attended, even inside fenced-in yards.
Wildlife does not want to encounter humans. But when humans come to be associated with easy food sources it reduces the natural level of fear and wariness about humans among wildlife.
Humans should learn about and respect the species with which we co-exist and take common-sense steps to prevent wildlife from becoming overly comfortable with us. Humans and their pets, along with wild predators such as coyotes and bears, all are here to stay.