One on One With Skie Bender: By Gina Dostler
Creative spirit Skie Bender paints and writes about the graceful wildness of animals. She currently works with wolves as an education outreach specialist. Her love for the species finds her on a lecture circuit both in Los Angeles and Orange counties talking about their habits, dispelling myths and enlightening both kids and adults on their impact.
Her intense wildlife knowledge led me to ask about our own local coastal wildlife. Having grown up here, she’s seen urban growth creep into wildlife habitat and that effect of development. While many people view the world as a human planet, she reminds us we share it with wildlife that keeps it in balance. Understanding them is the first step.
Q: With the continued expansion of urban growth into wildlife habitat, what choices are left for the local animals?
A: Some wild animals migrate to quieter more remote areas. But others such as raccoons, squirrels, skunks, rodents and coyotes find themselves adapting quite well to the human culture. Living in these parts you are bound to have one or more encounters with the local wildlife, occurring mostly at night due to their nocturnal habits. Though squirrels are very common during the day, where you’ll find them living in trees eating fruits and nuts and raiding bird feeders. But the rest usually prefer the obscurity of night.
Q: What’s the fine line between labeling them wildlife or calling them pests?
A: Naturally when an animal has crossed a home’s boundaries, its chance of being called a pest greatly increases. When an animal such as a raccoon or opossum rambles into your yard, the odds are good there is either food, water or both that has brought it there. Raccoons have five fingers and are very good at opening lids on trash cans and doors. Pest problems escalate when they decide to make your home their home and bring their fellow family into the mix. With more and more of our land being filled with concrete, animals are forced to find food, water and shelter elsewhere and our homes become a prime target.
Q: When wildlife takes up residence, how should I handle it?
A: Take a look around and make sure there is no food of any kind (dog or cat food, fruit or vegetable gardens, open trash cans) outside that is enticing the animals to your home. Even bird feeders can bring in hungry animals to chow on easy feeding. Animals that make a home out of your attic or crawl space can be scared away with loud noises. The smell of human scent on a worn shirt can encourage a nesting mother to move her young which might take up to several days. Poisoning should only be considered where infestations can quickly occur such as with rats that multiply at an exponential rate and can overrun a place in no time. I’m all for coexisting with wildlife and using every non-lethal way to keep infestation from happening. Yet at times, when all other ways have failed, sometimes it is a necessary evil.
Q: What are other non-lethal ways?
A: To me, poisoning is so archaic if there is no threat to you or your animals. If eliminating food and shelter doesn’t do the trick, live trapping is a great way to relocate wild animals humanely. It’s best to call your wildlife authority and find out how best to handle your situation.
Q: Tell me about some of the local wildlife and their habits.
A: Opossums are scavengers and feed on scraps, vegetables and fruits. They are the only mammal in California to carry their young in an abdominal pouch. They move slowly and are really rather docile creatures. Raccoons on the other hand can be vicious if they are cornered or sense you are going to attack them. Known to carry rabies, these mammals are smart and have adept fingers. Being nocturnal they come out after dark. They love water. Many koi ponds have been raided by these nighttime bandits. Be sure to cover your pond at night with a wooden cover or install a wire mesh around the inside perimeter. Bats and horned owls also make residence in these parts. Many cats that disappear are blamed on coyotes but could have easily been eaten by owls. And bats are very important to our ecosystem because they are one of the primary predators of nocturnal insects. If having bats in your attic is unappealing, get a battery-run lantern to light up the attic or run a fan. Both light and fast-moving air disturb the bats and they’ll seek another place to roost.
Q: What about coyotes?
A: As with a lot of wild life in the area, coyotes get a bad rap. Yes, they can kill cats and small dogs. Even big dogs can be attacked if seen as a threat or caught unexpectedly amongst a pack. But most coyotes prefer to shy away from humans and keep to themselves. They typically operate alone or in pairs, and they occasionally form aggregate packs for bringing down larger game. If coyotes are frequently in your area, be sure to keep your animals indoors at night. Don’t give a coyote easy access to your home; no holes in fences or wide open doors where food, even a pet Chihuahua, might tempt a starving coyote to venture inside.
CONTACT INFORMATION: Skie Bender, Education Outreach Specialist, 714.336-5798, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wolf Haven International | www.wolfhaven.org