Killer Bambi: Deterring Dangerous Wildlife

When Courtney Van Aertselaer heard her baby daughter, Trinity, shrieking on her deck, she ran out to investigate what was causing the fuss.  She never expected to see a deer raising its front hooves to trample her 13-month-old.  She swept up her daughter in her arms and ran inside. The family’s miniature pincher tried to chase the deer off the property but was trampled and seriously injured.  This incident took place on June 1, 2011 in Kenora, Ontario as reported in the Toronto Sun.  

When people think of deer, they are likely to imagine shy, docile creatures munching on leaves or gracefully bounding into the protective cover of the forest.  However, dangerous encounters with deer and other wildlife are a real risk to homeowners in rural regions and on the outskirts of urban areas.  We have built houses, stores and roads through their natural habitat.  Finding food is a matter of life and death and your backyard can look like a smorgasbord, especially when bad weather, reduction of habitat or other factors reduce wild food sources.  

In addition to deer, bears, cougars and coyotes can pose a serious risk to people and pets.  Since 2000, there have been nine reported bear attack fatalities across Canada and many more attacks resulting in serious injuries.  Interestingly, most of these involved common black bears, which are normally less aggressive than grizzly bears.  Wikipedia lists 23 fatal cougar attacks in Canada and the United States from 1890 to 2011; however, there were many more non-fatal attacks.  There has been at least one cougar attack reported annually in British Columbia since 2000.  These big cats target children who are often saved due to the swift actions of their parents.  Coyotes are another predator that will attack humans, although due to their small size, they will typically do so only when hunting in packs.  Lone coyotes choose smaller prey including domestic cats and dogs.

Wildlife can be unpredictable and fiercely determined in their quest for food. Fortunately, there are many ways to deter these predators and scavengers from endangering your family and property.  

The first line of defence is a physical barrier.  A tall, sturdy fence around your property will discourage intruders, particularly coyotes and deer.  Cougars are agile enough to scale a fence or a nearby tree to access the yard but will usually look for easier pickings.  Bears have the physical power to break through a wooden fence when they are sufficiently tempted.  In areas where the risk of bear intrusion is high, you may wish to consider a chain link fence or an electrified fence.    

Another key protective measure is removing the food sources that attract these animals.  From late fall to early spring, wild food is less abundant so the risk to people and property is greater.  Once they find a source, they will return repeatedly.  Be sure to use garbage cans with tight-fitting lids, or, better yet, use a bear-proof container with a latched lid.  Fish, meat and bones produce odours that are especially attractive to predators so, if possible, keep these in a freezer until garbage pickup day.  Another option is to store garbage cans in the basement or closed garage.  

Your barbeque also produces odours that are tempting to all predators.  The BC Ministry of Environment recommends cleaning the grill as soon as it is cool then storing the barbeque indoors.  

If you have fruit trees and/or berry bushes in your yard, try to harvest the ripe fruit daily.  Pick up any fruit that has fallen to the ground because it will begin to ferment and produce strong odours.  

The rising price of groceries and a desire to eat locally have encouraged some homeowners to take up gardening, beekeeping and even raising hens. These are great ways to save money, feel self-sufficient and enjoy organic food.  To protect your efforts from predators and scavengers, consider implementing these strategies:

  • Deer enjoy lettuce, peas and other garden favourites so a tall fence surrounding your property or garden will keep them out.  Another option is to fool them into thinking your property is home to their natural predators by using predator urine that can be sprinkled around your property.  This product is collected from wolves and other animals in zoos and sold at some garden stores.
  • If you have beehives, the BC Ministry of Environment recommends placing the hives on a platform with an overhang more than two metres above the ground, or surround them with electric fencing to deter bears.  You may also want to wire the hives together with metal strapping.
  • Coyotes, bears and other wild animals will prey on chickens so be sure to protect them with sturdy wire fencing including across the bottom of the enclosure.  Years of domestication have left chickens with fewer defences against predators.
  • For compost piles, add agricultural lime to speed up decomposition and reduce the smells that attract bears.  Do not put meat or fish into your compost.

If you see animals that are becoming dangerously malnourished, contact your local wildlife branch rather than feeding them.  In some cases, they will be relocated to areas with more natural food sources.  Protect your family and your property by keeping wild animals wild. 

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