A few months ago, wildlife officials in Los Angeles were notified of two incidents of attacks on humans by coyotes in Griffith Park. Their response was to kill eight of the park’s coyotes, which outraged many Los Angeles residents. Officials even acknowledged that they had no way of knowing whether any of the coyotes that were killed had actually been the ones involved in the attacks. Those who opposed the killings argued that more should have been done to prevent the attacks from happening in the first place.
The problem begins with the fact that in Griffith Park, the coyote population lives in close proximity to houses and many of these animals do not fear humans. Regular visitors to the park feed the coyotes, which makes them more accustom to humans. To help address this problem, last week park officials posted more than 70 “Do not feed the wildlife” warning signs around Griffith Park. But how many people actually abide by these rules? I know that in Santa Barbara, pedestrians often feed squirrels by hand. You’d think this was a harmless act, but when animals are killed due to overpopulation and their lack of fear of humans, then the feeding becomes a problem.
Here in Santa Barbara, there are countless green plastic housing boxes along Shoreline drive (at Ledbetter Beach, East Beach and West Beach) that contain lethal traps for squirrels. When I first saw these boxes, I assumed they were alternative housing devices for squirrels to prevent them from burrowing into the hillside. It wasn’t until further investigation that I realized what the boxes really were.
One afternoon I saw a squirrel run inside one of those boxes, I heard a “snap” and then heard squealing and then silence. I hesitated to inspect the box, but I had to see for myself what was going on. What I saw was horrible. I immediately went home and called the Santa Barbara Parks Department to ask why this killing was necessary. I was told that the squirrels had become too accustomed to humans and they were causing problems with pedestrians. I commented on how I routinely run the route along Shoreline Drive where the squirrels live and I had never seen an encounter. The parks department explained that for every call they receive from people complaining about the killing of the squirrels, they receive another five calls from those complaining that the squirrels are a nuisance.
If lethally trapping squirrels wasn’t bad enough, I once caught a Santa Barbara city worker stomping a squirrel to death. I confronted the worker about it and he told me that he was ordered to go around and see if any squirrels “escaped” from the death traps in the green plastic boxes and to kill them if they had. I immediately called the Santa Barbara Parks Department to investigate this matter and my phone call wasn’t returned until I submitted a letter to the editor and it was published in a local newspaper.
The Parks Department promised that the matter would be taken care of and no more squirrels would be stomped to death. While I was somewhat reassured, it was still bothersome that innocent squirrels were being killed right around the corner from my home. I spoke with wildlife rehabilitators that I’ve worked with in the past and asked if there were humane solutions to the squirrel overpopulation problem. This was their response:
People can help by not feeding the squirrels. Allowing squirrels to become accustomed to receiving food every time they approach a human, they will be likely to always come over to a person for a handout. Feeding the squirrels also keeps the squirrels’ population growing more steadily then it normally would, resulting in overpopulation and the need for the city to address the overpopulation problem. We are essentially saving the squirrels by not feeding them.
I offered these solutions to the Santa Barbara Parks Department and was told they were not viable alternatives.
• Leave the plastic boxes where they are, but remove the death traps and add dirt and grass to the boxes. Squirrels may then nest in them instead of burrowing in the hillside, preventing erosion.
• Use an injectable birth control to prevent overpopulation.
• Live trap and release the squirrels into less inhabited areas.
High profile cruelty cases, such as the one surrounding Michael Vick, receive much attention (as they should); however, it’s unfortunate that little attention is paid to what’s going on in our own community. If a city worker is told to trap and kill, and in some instances, stomp a squirrel to death in a city park, what is this teaching our children? That animal cruelty is okay as long as it’s not a cat or dog?
With winter just around the corner, well-intentioned people believe wild animals need our help finding food. However, this notion is false. Its one thing to have a bird feeder in your backyard, but it’s quite a different story to hand feed squirrels, coyotes, or any wild animal for that matter. I’m hoping that visitors to Griffith Park will adhere to the new warning signs posted about not feeding wild animals. Perhaps this will save the lives of coyotes. That same advice might help to save the squirrels in our own backyard.
Exciting news from the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter: 130 animals were adopted from the three shelters (ASAP, K-9 Pals, and BUNS) during the adoption fair this past weekend. One great adoption was a dog who had been at the shelter for almost two years! Thanks to everyone who volunteered their time and gave a shelter animal a permanent home.!
C.A.R.E.4Paws announces their Dog Days Retreat at El Capitan Canyon, January 8-10, exclusively for dog owners. C.A.R.E.4Paws is putting on a long list of activities Saturday, January 9, with dog training and agility demos, paw massage, dog grooming, pet portraits, dog wellness seminars, live entertainment, and a chance to meet rescue dogs.
C.A.R.E.4Paws-short for Community Awareness, Responsibility, Education-started its spay/neuter Program with the goal of reducing the large population of unwanted dogs and cats in Santa Barbara County. To learn more about C.A.R.E.4Paws and its different programs and upcoming events, visit care4paws.org.
Adoptable Pet of the Week
Poirot is a regal lion-like orange tabby cat. He is young and active and ready to play with just about any cat toy he can get his paws on. Although Poirot is comfortable and confident around people and other cats, he has not had experience with dogs and is not so sure he wants to. This big, handsome boy is quite independent here at the shelter. He is not much of a lap cat right now, but if you offer him a really comfortable lap:who knows? For more information, visit the Santa Barbara Humane Society at 5399 Overpass Rd., or call 964-4777. Shelter hours are Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. You can also visit sbhumanesociety.org for more information.