Give Wildlife Room To Roam

By Corky Simpson
TUCSON, AZ--No matter how benevolent you feel about the wildlife you occasionally encounter on those neighborhood morning or evening strolls, give them ample space.

Stay the heck away from them. Especially if you’re walking your dog.

“I hear a lot of incidents in which dogs are involved,” said Elissa Ostergaard of Tucson, AZ urban wildlife specialist with the Arizona Game & Fish Department. “It can get ugly.
With most wild animals you might run into, especially big ones, you should do everything you can to avoid them,” Ostergaard said. “Never put them on the defensive. And while I’m at it, residents should remember to never, ever feed these animals or put food out—in fact, it is illegal to do so.”

There are snacks, such as they are, on the desert. Wild things will find them.But if the animal becomes accustomed to handouts from two-legged people-critters, it just weakens their ability to fend for themselves, Ostergaard said.

One of the most familiar, charming sights in this community is Old Shep or Little Fifi out for a stroll, tugging at the leash, vacuuming the sidewalk with a big black nose, surveying his or her kingdom.

And that homely, innocent-looking porker called Javelina, which you see nibbling on a neighbor’s ground cover, may seem harmless. “But Javelina can sure hurt you,” Ostergaard said. “Never approach them and never make them feel trapped, Javelina don’t have good eyesight,” she said. “But their sense of smell and hearing are very good. If you run into one on your walk, make noises or stomp your foot on the ground and they’ll probably run away.”

These oinkers are also weird and in running away, they might run right into you. “So always be alert, that’s the best advice,” Ostergaard said.

Javelina, by the way, are not pigs. They are members of the peccary family, hoofed animals originally from South America. They can run in pairs or in herds of up to 20. Fluky and unpredictable, they patrol washes and corridors of denser vegetation. They have developed a taste for garden hose and enjoy what water they get from chewing through a hose.

Javelina enjoy morning walks, too, and can be seen now and then wandering through housing developments. You’ve probably seen deer and you may have had to slow down in your car to avoid bumping into them on our streets.

Deer and javelina may not be particularly dangerous, but guess what: while they’re foraging around, they just may be foraged after. “Javelina and deer are the favorite foods of mountain lions, so it wouldn’t hurt folks to keep their eyes and ears open,” Ostergaard said.

Good advice, Elissa.

“Bobcats are common down there, too,” she said. “And Coyotes, of course. They eat Javelina. That’s why Javelina hate dogs. They think they’re Coyotes. You might see a Mountain Lion or even a Black Bear passing through, too.”

Some dog lovers, such as myself, are not big fans of Coyotes. Coyotes eat household pets, after all. But if you like songbirds, such as the Curved Bill Thrush, the cardinal and the sparrow–each of which serenades us–you owe Mr. Coyote a thank-you.

“Coyotes control ferral cats,” Ostergaard said. “Cats feed on birds. So, the more Coyotes you have, the more songbirds. And what, exactly, are ferral cats? They are house cats nobody cared for,” Ostergaard said.

Those walks you and Fido take are good for you both, so don’t hang up the leash by any means. That’s not the idea. But keep an eye out for other, larger, wildlife critters. And be prepared to make a wise and prudent—but accelerated—retreat from them.

“Just use common sense, and always be on the lookout for animals, especially javelina and coyotes, the most common wildlife you’re likely to see in Green Valley,” Ostergaard said.
–Green Valley News