Looking for a way to get rid of that woodchuck who has been raiding your garden? Want to send that raccoon who gets into your trash elsewhere to rummage? Or, maybe you’d like the skunk denning under your deck to choose a different address! These and other conflicts with wildlife may have you thinking about live trapping and relocating wild animals. Many people assume it’s an effective and humane solution—unfortunately, it’s neither. All sorts of things can go awry, both for you and for the animal. Read on if you’d like to know some of the reasons it doesn’t work—and nab some advice that will help solve your problem for the long-term.
What can possibly go wrong?
Lots! Let’s start with the live trapping part of the process. Here are a few of the bad news scenarios that frequently unfold:
- Mother animals are separated from their young. There may be dependent young present in her den—if you trap and relocate their mother they will die. This is of greatest concern between March and August, but always check for young before interfering with an adult animal who is denning.
- Live traps can attract the wrong animal. It will be difficult to know for certain if you even got the right animal you were targeting. Animal ranges overlap and when you introduce attractive food baits into the situation you never know what you are going to get; it might be an animal that you don’t have a release plan for and is not safe to handle.
- Live traps can also catch companion animals, such as your neighbor’s cat. Cats are safest when kept indoors, but not everyone follows that good advice, and if your neighbor learns that her tabby was caught in a trap on your property that might complicate neighborly relations.
- Predators may be attracted to the scene, and though a predator may not be able to access the trapped animal, injuries may occur while the animal tries to defend herself or escape the predator’s claws or talons.
- Animals can become stressed while in a live trap and suffer injury. While working try to free themselves. they may end up with bleeding noses, lips, and paws—broken teeth and bones—not good
- An animal stuck in a trap during hot or cold weather may suffer from exposure. Depending upon the severity of the weather or length of time, their health can be significantly impacted and even death may occur.
- It may not be legal to trap, remove or relocate the animal, so don’t further complicate the situation by doing something illegal.
Even if none of these problems occur, when an animal is released at an unfamiliar site, there are other ways that a homeowner’s good intentions can go awry.
Q: Can’t animals figure out where to find food, water, or shelter in the new place?
A: Not as easily as you may imagine, nor as quickly as they may need to in order to survive.
Q: Won’t animals instinctively find places to hide from predators?
A: They’ll certainly try, but the predators’ familiarity with the site will put the relocated animal at a huge disadvantage.
Q: Okay, so if I were to find young left behind after removing an adult animal, couldn’t I just take them to a wildlife rehabilitator?
A: Yes, that would be their last best hope for surviving, but their chances of surviving are far less than if their mother were to continue raising them. The mom will also be frantically trying to get back to them and this will interfere with her safety, as well. Not to mention wildlife rehabilitators are already swamped with animals that need care that are not the result of a trapping situation gone awry.
Q: Won’t animals at the release site make room for the relocated animal?
A: This will vary with species, but most relocated animals will encounter some aggression from the animals of the same species already established in the area.
Q: But isn’t live trapping and relocating at least a quick and permanent solution?
A: Far from it… in fact, the trap could take a good while to catch the animal you’re after. But most frustrating for you, as a homeowner, is probably the fact that trapping and relocating the animal is only a temporary fix. The “vacancy” left by the animal you relocate will be filled by another animal, so you’ll quickly be back at square one. Why not just start with an approach that works?
What to try instead?
It depends upon the situation, of course, but sometimes all that is needed is a little patience, and the conflict resolves on its own. For example, animals denning due to weather, season, proximity to a food source, or to raise their young tend to leave on their own after those needs pass. When they do, that’s your cue to seal off access to the den site to prevent future use of it by other animals.
A little gentle harassment can also be effective, but naturally you don’t want to press matters when there are dependent young or freezing temperatures. At other times, though, try a combination of clearing vegetation they may be using for cover near the den, or lightly block the entrance hole. Shine lights into the space. Play a radio loudly nearby, or place offensive-smelling material in the den (urine soaked kitty litter for instance). When these sensory and mechanical harassment techniques are employed for a short amount of time they are nearly always effective in encouraging an animal to relocate, except of course when there are young present!
Don’t forget about prevention…
Once an animal has moved on, try to make your yard less appealing for a den site from the animal’s perspective.
- Use trashcans with tight-fitting lids and add a bungee cord for good measure.
- Don’t put meat or fish scraps in compost piles—try using a compost bin, rather than an open pile, to further reduce the temptation.
- Feed your pets inside, or take up their dishes as soon as they walk away from them.
- Choose a “no-mess” bird seed, or hulled sunflower seed, so birds will toss less seed on the ground—seed attracts mice; the mice attract predators; the predators then look for a place to den near the well-stocked “kitchen” this creates. Rake up seed spillage.
- If you keep chickens or other small animals outside, make sure they have sturdy housing that predators cannot get into.
Get more advice on how to safely evict wildlife from chimneys, attics, vents, and spaces under porches. Equally useful are the tips on how to select a responsible wildlife control service. When a situation goes beyond what you want to deal with, let those with training, experience, and the right equipment help you out!