Who You Callin’ Chicken Hawk?

In our area, many people still use the old term “chicken hawk” to refer to redtailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, and sharp-shinned hawks. This term is a misnomer. Although these birds will occasionally opportunistically prey on chickens that aren’t properly secured, chickens comprise only a tiny portion of their diets and are generally larger than their preferred prey. The vast majority of animals eaten by “chicken hawks” are rats, mice, snakes, rabbits, starlings, and chipmunks.

It’s always a good idea to keep your livestock in a pen or coop that is secured top to bottom. This protects them not only birds of prey, but also dogs, cats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks. But the “chicken hawks” in your neighborhood are actually much more interested in rats than chickens.

Scary Opossums!

Opossums have more teeth than any other land mammal, and when they’re scared, they like to use those scary-looking jaws to make themselves look intimidating. But don’t let this face fool you: opossums are actually very gentle, timid creatures who almost never bite or attack. They’re also naturally resistant (though not 100% immune) to rabies. Give opossums space and let them live.

Why We Only Rescue Tennessee Wildlife

Since Chattanooga sits on the state line, our local rehabbers often get calls about animals from outside the state.

I can advise about wildlife first-aid, help identify unknown critters, and help find solutions for people who want to humanly repel “nuisance” animals, regardless of where the call comes from. But to actually accept an animal for rehabilitation, there are strict regulations.

I can never accept animals found in Georgia or Alabama into my facility. These regulations are very important, particularly for the animals I care for: skunks, foxes, and raccoons. All states have different policies to help manage the spread of disease in wildlife— most seriously, including rabies—and it’s important to follow the laws of the state where the animal was originally found. Violating local and state law could cost a rehabilitator their license, particularly if the animal later developed symptoms of rabies.

If you find an animal in need of help, please call a rehabilitator in the state where it was found. Although I would love to be able to help animals across state lines, I have to follow the law.

What Happens When You Feed a Bear?

This story happens every year here in Tennessee, particularly in tourist-heavy areas like Gatlinburg. Bears— often nursing moms who are desperate for the extra food— will accept an offer of pet food from curious people who want to see them up close. The bear quickly realizes that pet food is a good snack, so she looks for it in other places— on decks and in yards. Then she learns that humans aren’t that scary, and that where there are people, there’s usually food.

This bear just wants to eat. She doesn’t know that the residents of her neighborhood are starting to fear her. She doesn’t know that they’re calling the state and demanding death for her and her cubs. She doesn’t know how soon a game warden— who is only doing what needs to be done to preserve human safety— will find her. She doesn’t know who the men with guns are when they approach her, as she digs in the garbage can of a vacation cabin.

She hears a terrifying bang. Her children’s lifeless, bloodied bodies are the last thing she sees before bullet enters her skull.

All because someone gave her dog food.

Don’t contribute to this problem. Pass it on: a fed bear is a dead bear.

Trapping for Fur Isn’t a Job

For the amount of time involved in trapping, killing, skinning, and selling a fox, the $10-15 value of its pelt doesn’t even pay close to minimum wage. A 2015 study of American fur trappers, determined that essentially no one in the United States actually makes their primary living trapping fur animals. It is not a job, but a sick hobby.

How Dangerous are Wolves and Coyotes?

People live in fear of the Big Bad Wolf, and his smaller cousin the coyote, even though attacks on humans are rare and deaths are nearly unheard of. Most of the ten annual deaths from wolves are due to pet wolves turning on their owners, not wild wolves seeking prey. And, in all of U.S. history, there have been only two cases of coyotes fatally attacking human beings.

Any human death is a tragedy, and the rare cases of wolves and coyotes preying on humans are devastating. However, it’s important to remember that these are bizarre, freak occurrences. They do not justify the mass extermination of predators that are vital to our ecosystem.

The Sensitivity of Raccoons

It’s easy for people to forget that wild animals, like raccoons, have feelings and families just like our pets. I would like to share with you, an example of the sensitivity I’ve seen from wild raccoons.

Last April, I unfortunately witnessed the death of a raccoon kit who had been attacked by a dog. I knew almost instantly that he was not going to survive. I stepped back to text my mentor and my vet, and when I did, his sister ran down to his side. She vocalized— unmistakably crying— and started pulling on his ears and legs with her hands. She tried to drag him away but wasn’t strong enough.

She then amazed me by picking pieces of grass and clover and physically trying to put them in his mouth. I don’t know whether this was an attempt to feed him, or an instinct to try to get him to vomit in case he was poisoned. When he wasn’t able to swallow the grass, she cried louder. I watched her grow more and more frantic as her brother drew his last breaths. She started wailing and then ran away. It was the most clear and heartbreaking displays of animal empathy that I’ve ever witnessed.

This isn’t unique to this one pair of kits. Every raccoon rehabber has seen a similar case. Studies of raccoon intelligence shows that they are at least as intelligent as rhesus macaques, and also that an extraordinary amount of their brain processing power focuses on feeling, both emotionally and physically.

It’s easier to ignore cruelty against wild animals when people can convince themselves that they are “just” animals, but raccoons in particular are undoubtably caring, sensitive, empathetic creatures. They don’t deserve cruelty, even when they’re inconveniencing someone by digging in their trash or mistaking an attic for a den.

We Want Them to Hate Us

One of the beautiful things I’ve seen among wildlife rehabilitators, is the deep, selfless respect for the wildness of wildlife. Although it can feel bittersweet when an animal you’ve raised from infancy snarls and bristles and hides from you, it’s also a sign of rehabilitation done right.

The goal of wildlife rehabilitation is not to tame animals or make them companions, but to give them a second chance at a life in the wild.

Rabies Doesn’t Look Like Rabies

I specialize in rescuing wild animals that are categorized as “rabies vector species”— foxes, skunks, and raccoons. It’s been my experience that many people will either enormously over-react or under-react to the risk of rabies. For every person I’ve encountered who has shot a healthy animal for no reason at all, I’ve also encountered many who casually allowed their pets and children to play with a wild animal they had found, often stating that the animal “doesn’t look rabid.”

It’s certainly true that the relative risk of rabies in a healthy-looking animal is fairly low. But it’s also true that an animal can have rabies without displaying the characteristic symptoms we know from Cujo and Old Yeller. The image of a hyper-aggressive animal that is foaming at the mouth only represents one stage of rabies. A rabid animal before or after the “furious” stage will often be unusually friendly, sleepy, or slow. Later, in the end stages, it will be paralyzed and have seizures but may not appear aggressive at all. Most alarmingly, it may even appear healthy.

If you find a wild mammal that needs help, please reach out to a professional and don’t attempt to handle it yourself. And please— for the safety of both the animal and the child— don’t allow kids to treat wild animals like pets.

What to Feed Ducks

Feeding wild ducks isn’t usually a good idea. Even when the food is healthy, over-feeding tends to make ducks become dependent and can cause them to over-populate bodies of water. This leads to the overgrowth of algae and the mass death of fish, and can sometimes cause ducks and geese to become aggressive toward humans.

However, if you’re going to feed ducks anyway, please feed them healthy foods. Bread causes severe gas, diarrhea, liver disease, and bone deformities. Make sure you don’t accidentally cause more harm than good!