Wherever we are in the world, we share our environment with wildlife. It is almost impossible to avoid being on some animal’s home turf or for them not to be on ours. This means human/animal encounters are virtually inevitable. They can be positive or negative depending on how we approach them.
Meg Toom, a specialist on wildlife conflict prevention was a guest on our show. She gave us some great tips on how to ensure our wildlife encounters are positive ones. Here are a few ideas to avoid conflict with wildlife that can be applied anywhere in the world for any species of animals.
1. Understanding the animals who share your environment.
Of the hundreds or thousands of animals in a given area, there are likely only a dozen or so that we see and/or hear and of those, a much smaller number pose any potential concern to us or us to them. They are simply going about their lives using the wonderous talents and skills inherent to their species. Learning more about the species around us, their behaviours, eating habits and mating rituals can enrich our sense of community as well as prepare us for interacting with them.
Wildlife preservation groups, municipal authorities and local environmental groups are reliable sources of information about common species in your community. They share facts and figures about your animal neighbours, how they live and what they eat. Wikipedia can also be a good starting point, although it is more likely to contain inaccuracies than the other sources mentioned. For those who are really curious, you might want to look at academic literature or books on the species near you.
When we have the facts about the animals around us, we can make sense of their behaviour. As the saying goes, “knowledge is power”. The more we know, the more likely we are to have positive encounters with them.
2. Staying in the moment
As Meg Toom mentioned on the podcast, animals tend to leave clues of their presence. They make noise, leave droppings (scat), or move in ways to make us aware of them. If we are distracted with smartphones or are blocking sound through earpieces, we can miss important indicators of an animal nearby.
In the 1980’s, the Japanese coined the phrase shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” for a practice of taking leisurely, mindful walks in nature. Scientific studies have shown the practice to have a positive impact on cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate among other benefits. When recreating in nature (that could be a park in your neighbourhood), engaging in this practice of “being in the moment” can benefit physical and emotional health in addition to helping us stay present to the animals around us.
3. Minimizing enticements around your property.
The single greatest enticement for wildlife to be near our home, campsite or car is food. There are countless videos available online of bears coming into homes or cars having followed their noses to the pie on the kitchen counter or the sandwiches on the back seat packed for a day trip. Other species like wild cats won’t go that far but will stealthily grab anything edible from your yard. Being vigilant about food and food odours around your space is key to reducing the risk of conflict with wildlife. Wild animals are naturally wary of humans. They won’t risk a conflict with you unless the reward seems worth it.
It is time well spent to assess your property for potential enticements to animals that could pose a threat. Is your garbage safely secured? Are live animals (e.g. chickens) protected in pens? Taking proactive steps to reduce food sources will always serve us well.
4. Know What to Do
When coming face to face with a potentially dangerous animals in your environment, do you know what to do? When should you run and when shouldn’t you? Is making noise a good idea or not? Knowing what strategies to employ is essential.
The information sources previously mentioned usually offer tips on what to do when encountering one of these animals. Knowing the actions to take and committing them to memory are key. Close wildlife encounters tend to happen quickly. We won’t have time to dig around for an information sheet or guidebook. Our actions need to be reflexive.
Before I head out hiking in my community, I spend a few seconds going over what to do if I come face to face with one of the black bears in the vicinity. My love of these animals puts me at risk of wanting to get close to them. I need to strengthen my reflexes to engage the strategies for safely dealing with bear encounters quickly. For someone else, the instinct may be to run which is also not a healthy response. We benefit from reminding ourselves regularly of the best actions to take in those situations.
5. Community Engagement in Protecting Animal Habitats
Whether through land development and deforestation, wildfires, or climate change, the natural habitats of many wildlife species are declining. As a result, wild animals are coming into urban areas with increasing frequency in a quest to survive. The threats to their habitats are not exclusively created by human behaviour but we account for a significant portion of this phenomenon.
Do your local authorities have a strategy for addressing wildlife displacement from land development? What expectations do they place on themselves or developers to address the problem of lost animal habitats? What is their approach to wildlife presence in your community?
There are countless ways to ensure our wild neighbours are properly looked after and, contrary to some popular belief, they aren’t all expensive or difficult to implement. It just takes some political will based on respect for wildlife.
It is worth finding out what policies are in place in your local community and assessing whether they meet your needs and that of the animals in your environment. If not, you may want to be a catalyst for change. Many reforms start at a grassroots level with thoughtful members of civil society raising awareness of a concern and lobbying for reform. Your voice matters and it can be amplified when you work with other members of your community to effect positive change.