When Wildlife Goes Wild

By Diane Tait

Image courtesy flickr
Living in the city, I don’t see much in the way of wildlife other than squirrels, feral cats and visiting Canadian snow geese that love to camp out here in the winter.  But go an hour or so away from Jacksonville and it’s a different story.  Having relocated my parents from New Jersey to Palm Coast fifteen years ago, I’ve been surprised to see everything from deer and raccoons wandering freely through their neighborhood, to gators and otters in the canal that borders their property.  While these critters won’t bother you unless you bother them, my dad nearly surprised a black bear a couple years ago that was intent on feasting on blackberries that grew wild in the lot next door.  Fortunately, both my dad and the bear ran in opposite directions when they encountered each other early one spring morning.  But that isn’t always the case for everyone.

While attacks by wild animals aren’t all that common in Florida, damage caused by wildlife is. Everything from squirrels and roof rats setting up housekeeping in attics, to raccoons and possums tearing up yards at night while looking for food in the winter are pretty common.  While I personally haven’t had to deal with the problem, several of my friends have.  One of them complained that feral cats were scratching the paint on her car by jumping up on the hood every night.  Another friend of mine has been having a problem with the flock of snow geese that inhabits the pond behind his house.  He told me the geese congregate in his yard and on his driveway where their droppings make a real mess.  Even when he lets his dog run them off, they come back soon thereafter.  Both my friends are at their whit’s end about what to do to deter these unwanted squatters.

Image courtesy flickr
Talking Turkey – To make matters worse, this morning, I went online only to read about flocks of wild turkeys that have become a huge problem in Tom’s River, New Jersey.  The New York Times posted an article entitled, “Where Turkeys are So Bold, They Knock on the Door for Food.” 

The turkeys amble in large groups across roads, stubbornly unaffected by a chorus of car horns. They perch on rooftops, make themselves at home in backyards and peck at their feathered reflections in shiny car bumpers. Some people have declared them a menace.

Apparently, the turkeys in New Jersey like to troop through neighborhoods in packs while pecking on cars, chasing pets and knocking on doors for handouts.  The article goes onto point out that it’s the handouts and bird feeders that started the feathery stampede in the first place.  While friends from out of town call to joke about the attack turkeys, to residents it’s no laughing matter.  Especially when flocks as large as fifty strong stake claims to a homeowner’s yards.

Why People Go Wild Over Wildlife – Doing a bit more digging online, I found hundreds of articles and YouTube videos from coast to coast that talk about problems that residents have with wildlife that has taken residence in urban settings.  If you think that wild turkeys are bad, in some California towns they have mountain lions roaming through neighborhoods at night looking for a midnight snack.  In Alaska there are thousand-pound polar bears scavenging for food.  How would you like to take out the trash to come upon one of those?  Bears of all kinds love to raid trash cans for a bite to eat.  This means if you live in areas where bears congregate, you need to either keep your trashcans indoors, or you need to make sure they’re tough enough to keep a bear from getting into them.  Yes, they do make bear-proof trash cans. 

The problem with problem wildlife is in most cases caused by people.  Animals do what comes naturally.  At least they do until people show them there’s an easier way to find a meal.  Ninety percent of wildlife issues are caused by people either actively feeding wildlife or passively giving wildlife access to food sources.  If you think that bears browsing through garbage bins is a problem, some bears have been known to break into cars to forage for food.

Image courtesy Pixabay
A California cop posted a video that showed what happened when a bear jumped into a parked car then couldn’t find its way back out. 

Though deputies managed to safely free the imprisoned bear, the creature’s claws had torn the Toyota’s upholstery to shreds, gouged chunks out of the steering wheel, and completely removed the roof liner.  

What’s even more alarming is that the accompanying article goes onto reveal that this is hardly an isolated incident.  Some carjacking bears are known to the police to be repeat offenders.

Officials in Placer County are well used to dealing with bears. Deputies were called in two weeks ago to free a 400-pound black bear named ‘T-shirt’ from a dumpster in Kings Beach, on the shores of Lake Tahoe. The bear was known to deputies from previous encounters and was christened ‘T-shirt’ due to the patch of white fur on his chest.

What Can You Do? – Since wildlife can do tremendous damage to property, not to mention in some cases endanger people, the most important thing is to discourage them from hanging around your property.  First and foremost, that means don’t encourage them.  While some animals are cute and fuzzy, your opinion of them will change considerably once they become nuisances or worse yet, you come home to find them inside your home.  That means you not only need to refrain from actively feeding them, you also need to remove anything they like to eat from your property.  This translates into removing birdbaths and bird-feeders, as well as eliminating plants that animals like to browse on.  If you provide what amounts to a free all-you-can-eat buffet for critters, don’t complain when they take you up on your offer.

Image courtesy flickr
If you have animals that like to rummage through your trash cans, buy or build cans they can’t open.  Trust me when I say they’ll quickly move onto greener pastures.  In the case of bears this also means don’t leave any food in your car or glove compartment.  Bears have noses that are every bit as sensitive as dogs.  This means they can sniff out hidden snack food and candy bars locked inside any vehicle. Better still is to lock your car inside your garage.

If passive resistance proves futile, there is one last resort you can use to discourage problem wildlife.  If you sprinkle cayenne pepper around your property or atop your car (as I told my friend with the cartop cat to do), one snoot full is usually all it takes to discourage most animals from coming back again.  More importantly, it doesn’t harm the animal in any way. 

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on auto insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at left.


  1. The problem with many people is they want to get closer to nature than freak out when they get their wish.

  2. I love going camping. One outing, our food supply was attacked by a troop of raccoons. They were successful at making off with a whole chicken and a couple of lbs of bacon!


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