According to Wikipedia, April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. It’s also the awareness month for: poetry; mathematics; sexual assault; Parkinson’s disease; prevention of animal cruelty; Asperger’s syndrome and autism; Confederate history; developmental disabilities; diabetes; cancer control; jazz appreciation; rape prevention; distracted driving; donate life; and sexually transmitted disease. Whew!
This past week, however, a news story from Worcester reminded this writer that we need some more April awareness about our own surroundings. Just as children who don’t grow up on farms come to think that food comes from supermarkets, if no one enlightens them, both children and adults who have never lived in the midst of a rural or semi-rural environment have little exposure to wildlife. So, they are often very fearful in encounters with wild animals, and they react inappropriately, or with excessive force. Such was the case of a 76-year-old man in Auburn, who, upon seeing a bear eating birdseed in his yard, went back into his house, according to news reports, and came back out with a rifle, shooting and killing the female black bear, possibly leaving some orphaned cubs awaiting her return.
The man is facing criminal charges, largely because it is not appropriate to kill a wild animal just because you are afraid of it, when it is not threatening you. Wildlife authorities were clear in stating that he should have called them when he went back into his home, rather than coming back outside to harm the animal.
Rumors of large animals roaming wooded areas is more inspiring than frightening to some people, since it signals that our ecological systems are finding balance again, rather than being heavily dominated by either prey or predator species. Too many deer, for example, mean too many deer ticks, and a greater incidence of Lyme disease. More coyotes, or even bears, means that a predator species may cull that population naturally, without requiring help from humans. Despite being a geographically concentrated problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States.
Living with wildlife is easier once you understand how to avoid negative confrontations. For example, April can also be Take Your Bird Feeder Down Awareness Month. Birds, once April arrives, do not need assistance finding food, so even though they are pretty to watch outside our windows, feeding them is an attractant to opportunistic wildlife that we might not be so comfortable viewing in such close proximity! Coyotes, bears, raccoons, deer, and squirrels love bird feeders.
If a wild animal becomes a problem, what can residents do legally? In Massachusetts, no one may randomly destroy wildlife simply because it is on their property, nor can they live-trap a problem animal and move it for release on other public or private property. So, it’s wise to know how to co-exist with the wildlife that surrounds us in the commonwealth.
MassWildlife has suggestions so that we can not only co-exist, but help our wild neighbors remain safe, too, at http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/wildlife/wildlife_home.htm.
Anne Springer is the public relations director of SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging. To reach SeniorCare, call 978-281-1750.