Cool as wildlife is, it’s understandable that you may not want wild animals living in your attic or chimney, or under your deck. And it’s not unreasonable to feel frustrated if you find that your carefully tended flowers or veggies have been munched upon. But, hey, you’re a kind and decent person, so you’re looking for a kind and decent solution—you’re wondering if animal relocation is the way to go. Could you live trap and find a place for relocating animals yourself, you wonder, or should you look for professional animal relocation services? Short answer: neither! But kudos to you for being on the right track and looking for a kind solution. Read on to understand why relocating animals is actually pretty rough on wildlife and how to best deal with wildlife living in problematic places. Sometimes there is a use for animal relocation services, but usually only as a last resort.
What’s wrong with animal relocation?
It seems to make sense that a nice natural area would be a safe and appropriate place to transport an animal you don’t want living in or under your house. But it’s not that simple. Animals who live in suburbia or cities have a whole different set of knowledge and survival skills from those who live in more natural settings. They’re used to avoiding people, cats and dogs, not the wider array of predators they’ll face in the wild. Plus, their mental “map” of their home is their reference for finding safe cover quickly, finding food and water, and finding appropriate shelter for raising their young.
Plunk an animal down outside their normal home range and they are in entirely unfamiliar territory. Suddenly they must search for food, water, cover, and a den while being pursued by predators they may have no experience evading. They’re now on someone else’s “turf,” so others of their species may be aggressive toward them. Relocation can also contribute to the spread of disease.
If you’ve accidentally relocated a mother, she will frantically try to find her way back to her young, an extremely stressful situation that may cause her to risk her life crossing roads or open areas. Meanwhile, her young are left hungry and helpless. Depending upon their age, the young may starve to death, be taken by predators because mom is not there to protect them, or be forced to search for food in ways that get them into trouble with people and pets.
One team of researchers took a look at the movement and mortality of translocated (i.e. relocated) squirrels, and their findings offer a grim look at the fate of many animals moved from an urban-suburban to an unfamiliar forest. An astounding 97% (or 37 out of 38) of the squirrels either died or disappeared from the release area during the 3 month study (Adams et al. 2004).
On top of the humane concerns surrounding relocation, there are serious legal ones as well. Trapping and relocating wildlife is illegal in many states. Check with your state’s wildlife agency to learn more about the laws and permit requirements where you live.
Further, relocating an animal who has been living in your home is not a long-term solution. Unless the entrance to the den is properly closed after everyone is out, another animal will come along and use the space. Thus, relocating animals doesn’t address their most basic needs or give you the humane and permanent solution you want and deserve.
What does work?
Fortunately, sometimes a wildlife conflict will resolve itself with no intervention on your part. Merely by you exercising a little patience, an animal will often move elsewhere. How to know when patience is the best choice? Generally, if it is spring or summer and an animal is residing in or under your home, you’re likely looking at a family situation, not just the one adult you may see coming and going. In these cases, waiting a few weeks for the young to mature enough to follow their mom out of the chimney, attic, or burrow beneath your deck will be the kindest and simplest solution for you and the animals.
Be aware, though, that squirrels have a second litter sometime from August through October. Regardless of species, though, any particular family will only need a few months of tolerance before they move along.
When patience is less plausible
There may be times or situations when waiting for young to mature and leave on their own is less workable. Perhaps you have a skunk family dwelling under your back deck, and you have dogs who need the backyard—probably not a good mix. Or, maybe you have a raccoon family dwelling in your chimney, and you tend to use your fireplace in the spring. These sorts of conflicts can often be resolved quickly through humane harassment. Wild animals always know where alternate denning sites are within their territory. If you humanely harass them, the mother will revisit those alternative sites and begin moving her young to the one she chooses. This approach enables the family to stay together in familiar territory, where the mom can attend to the needs of her young and keep them safe.
Humane harassment techniques
Wildlife moms are like human moms. They want a place that’s quiet and safe to raise their young. They also tend to like their dens fairly dark. Thus, harassment means making the space they’re using noisy, bright, and unpleasant. Play a radio loudly near the entrance, shine light into the space, and place cider vinegar-soaked rags in a cup near the opening. If needed, point a fan into the opening to blow air inside. These combined sensory disturbances will cause the mom to seek other quarters for her family. Give her time to move her young, and ensure they’re all out before beginning to seal up the entrance. Place loose materials, like crumpled up paper towels or newspaper, in the entrance and wait until it has remained untouched for four days (longer if weather is severe) before assuming no one is still inside. Despite what some websites may advise, never use ammonia or moth balls to harass wildlife. Both can be dangerous for humans and animals and should be avoided.
Sealing up entrances
It’s of no use to evict one animal or family of animals and not prevent others from entering. Once you’ve followed the above method of being sure everyone is safely out, locate all entrances, and seal them up with metal flashing or other sturdy building materials. Once the area is clear, have a chimney cap installed if animals have been using your chimney. Cover vents with hardware cloth. Check these repairs a couple times a year to be sure they’re still secure. Likewise, look for any weather damage to trim, shingles, or boards that might enable animals to get inside, and attend to any repairs before weaknesses become entrances.
Adams, L.W., Hadidian, J., Flyger, V. (2004) Movement and mortality of translocated urban-suburban grey squirrels. Animal Welfare, 13, 45-50.