NATURE NOTES - Number 26 August 14, 2021
Most people find that wildlife has great appeal. Just seeing a deer along the road or a hawk overhead brings a certain joy. Once in a while that joy is not so great when we collide with that deer on the highway or that woodpecker is determined to drill into our attic. So most any wild animal can be annoying or damaging at times. There are two critters that I want to cover today that are not often seen, but they are on the “most wanted” list of problem wildlife. They are not native to our area, and neither is protected by law from being hunted.
Our current topic: Two good examples of bad wildlife.
First, the coyote: much more common than you might think, this western species has migrated over the years to the East coast, including our region, and even into urban areas. A partial reason for this migration was the removal years ago of the native wolf from the east, and the depletion of mountain lions and bears. Coyotes simply moved into a new hunting ground that was sparsely populated by competing species. Even though most of these other species are making a comeback, the coyotes are not catching the next bus back out west. They are here to stay. Once you see a coyote, you’ll know it. It looks sort of like a dog, but not. Its shape, movement and behavior will quickly identify it. They will retreat from humans, but with a lope that says “I know you can’t get me”. While they do compete with other native species for small animals for food, they have adapted quite well to feeding on human trash or on pets. So watch your garbage can and little Fluffy. A sign of coyotes in a suburban neighborhood is the disappearance of the neighborhood cats. Even though they are part of the huge nature network, they have few redeeming factors other than disposing of carcasses they might find. For this reason they are in “open season” for hunters. Some localities even pay a bounty for each one eliminated, but before you sit on your back porch with your AR-15 you might want to check local hunting regulations for your county.
The other culprit: the wild hog or “wild boar”: This guy is worse than the coyote. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources calls them “ecological disasters”. While not terribly common in our region yet, there are populations in 20 Virginia counties, mostly to the east and north, as well as 35 other states. The current estimated population in Virginia is somewhere approaching 3000. These are not native, but have either escaped from farms or have been purposely released by irresponsible hunters wanting to create herds they can hunt. In either case they have rapidly reproduced and found a habitat rich in acorns, tree roots, tubers, eggs of turkeys and quail, and near-by farm crops. $1.5 billion in agriculture damage is attributed to wild hogs in the U.S each year. Not only do they eat a lot, put they create mud-holes, destroy fences, and trample forest understory and young trees. The more they reproduce (up to 8 piglets per litter and 3 litters a year) the more they spread into areas that are totally up-ended by their presence. Several diseases that can affect other animals and man are carried by these animals. They can also be dangerous when cornered or protecting their young. They have no current predators other than man. These “bad guys” have been described by wildlife experts as the “most invasive animal in America”. Not a good label.
Making scouts aware of these two animals, and discussing them serves as a good example of the risk of introducing non-native animals into a new habitant. Help make them aware of nature – the good and the bad. This is also a good topic to use for Mammal Study and Fish and Wildlife Management Merit Badge requirements.
Thanks for reading them and I will keep posting!