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Here's How . . .

to Treat or Defeat Backyard Wildlife

November 20, 1986|JANE S. BRONSON | Bronson is a free-lance writer who lives in Van Nuys.

When you fill your bird feeder or feed your cat alfresco, little do you realize you are attracting wildlife that will not be necessarily welcome guests at your buffet table.

Van Nuys resident Jacque Johnson thought neighborhood cats must be enjoying the feast she had been providing for them after she discovered her Siamese's feeding dish empty every morning, even though the cat remained slim. No matter how much food she left out for the cat, nothing remained in the dish.

Johnson was further convinced when, one evening, she caught sight of what she thought was the rear of a big tomcat lumbering into nearby bushes.

After a few nocturnal forays, she found the "eat-and-run" culprit--a possum who looked ill. Johnson put the animal into her dog's portable cage to nurse her back to health.

Of course, the animal was merely playing possum--and was actually in fine fettle. The determination of sex was made when Johnson found her furry ex-patient was nursing babies nearby.

The possum, with beady black eyes, pink nose and pink feet, is nocturnal, slow moving and likes to feed near water, feasting on all types of berries, corn, mice, lizards and, of course, cat food. Few live to the age of 2, surviving in the wild for about a year.

Should you be playing host to a similar visitor from the wild, the city Department of Animal Regulation will lend you a harmless trap, which is a boxed cage with a spring door and bait.

To obtain the trap, contact whichever of the six city Animal Shelters is nearest you. Their personnel will instruct you about use of the trap for your particular area. In some cases, the animal will be airlifted to its native habitat. Possums definitely do not make good pets.

Recently, a Hollywood Hills resident heard his spa activated at about 2 a.m. Afraid that a burglar was attempting to lure him outside, he called the police.

Upon their arrival, the police did discover a masked creature, but it was not human! Instead, a raccoon had stepped on the push-button controls on the side of the hot tub and was splashing in the water. He was frightened off by the officers.

The following night brought a repeat performance--only this time the raccoon brought a friend--a possum. They apparently thoroughly enjoy nighttime swimming parties.

Animal Control Officers were summoned and chased the two, but could not apprehend them. This went on for more than a week until the possum was trapped and returned to the wilds. The raccoon probably changed his resort area and was not seen again.

Raccoons, who are as roguish as their masked faces suggest, are destructive nuisances when left to their own devices.

According to Animal Control Officer Pam Hanna, many Los Angeles residents complain that raccoons are ripping apart their wood roofs.

The little animals can get into trash cans, open doors, lift latches and are competent escape artists after their pillaging raids. The average raccoon is about 25 inches long and weighs about 15 pounds.

When young they are very good natured and full of personality. One Department of Conservation official tells of a young raccoon who would "put its paws over its eyes when scolded." However, their presence in your backyard warrants a call to your local Animal Shelter--raccoons belong in their native habitat, no matter what they appear to think.

Turtles or Tortoises

Should you stumble on a turtle or a tortoise (and you might), there are certain things you should know about them. It is illegal to remove a desert tortoise from its native area, because they are an endangered species.

There are many, however, who are already living close to humans. Their life span is long, and they sleep away at least half of it, hibernating in winter. Our neighbor's female tortoise (who laid seven eggs the first half hour she entered their yard) went under their house every October and emerged sleepy and hungry the first day of spring.

Tortoises subsist well on fruit and greens and require only cover, food and drinking water. They cannot swim and are known to have drowned in family pools; however, they get along well with the household dog and cat, because tortoises have a great source of defense--their hard shell.

Some of us have never seen a skunk, but we certainly know when one's been around. Victorian naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton described the odor: "a mixture of strong ammonia, essence of garlic, burning sulfur, a volume of sewer gas, a vitriol spray, a dash of musk, all mixed together and intensified a thousand times."

If you should come upon one, it is wise to remain as quiet as possible, because sudden movements are threatening. When provoked, skunks stamp their front feet (warning No. 1), raise their tail (warning No. 2) and then spread the tip of the tail--beware! When sprayed in the dark, the spray is luminous.

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