Animal Sanctuary Panel Reveals How To Live Harmoniously With Wildlife
Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary (CVHAS) hosted its much anticipated “Newtown Wildlife Panel: Safely Coexisting with Wildlife” at Newtown Community Center on Sunday, November 13.
“Newtown is one of the most beautiful communities in all of Connecticut — a place where people and wildlife share a home among the woodlands, open spaces, walking trails, streams, and meadows. However, finding the balance between coexisting with nature while protecting humans and animals can often be a challenge. Despite many good intentions, misinformation and practices often lead to unfortunate outcomes for our wildlife friends,” a CVHAS press release stated.
The free event was designed to bring awareness to wildlife matters prevalent in town. It brought together experts who shared information about animals, such as bears, coyotes, and foxes, and answered questions from the public.
CVHAS President Jenny Hubbard and Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal helped moderate the panel, which included Peter Reid from Wildlife in Crisis, Newtown Animal Control Officer Carolee Mason, Jim Knox from Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, and Ben Kilham from Kilham Bear Center. Kilham joined virtually on Zoom since his organization is based in Lyme, New Hampshire.
Hubbard welcomed everyone attending and prefaced the discussion by saying, “We have all been having these separate conversations about how it’s so important for us living in Newtown to understand the wildlife that we live with … and better understand how we can protect them and protect ourselves. We have to understand how to live safely together.”
Bears As Neighbors
Rosenthal shared that having grown up in Newtown, he has seen a variety of wildlife here in his lifetime — although he has not seen a bear in his yard, yet.
His comments segued into Hubbard asking Kilham if people should be deterring bears from their property.
Kilham replied, “You should not be attracting them around your house. They have an extremely good sense of smell. Any food fragments will lure them in.”
As a result, leaving any food outside, an outdoor garbage bin, a bird feeder, or even having food near an open window and wafting out the smell has the potential to attract bears.
Reid added, “We have the privilege of having these animals around us — bears and other animals we will be discussing today. With that privilege comes the responsibility of being good neighbors. And that neighbor can reach three to four hundred fifty pounds or so, and they get super hungry.”
He noted that the practices they will be talking about today are “universal” for bears and other wildlife. One of those practices is removing all food attractants that could attract bears, which includes cleaning grills, feeding pets inside, and protecting backyard chickens.
“If you have a coop, we recommend an electric fence with a minimum of 6 to 7 thousand volts,” Reid said.
At this time of year, bears are consuming about 20,000 calories a day.
“They are gravitating towards areas that they are finding food. Unfortunately, that includes our property. If we remove those attractants and food sources, there will be much less of an issue,” Reid said.
Rosenthal asked the question he and others had, “Are bears really dangerous?”
Kilham replied, “They are potentially dangerous, but they don’t have to be. We can live safely with bears around, but we should never assume that they can’t be dangerous. Black bears are afraid of people and they are only attracted to our food.”
He explained that people are far more likely to be killed by a dog or lightning than a bear.
Knox said bears are smart, adaptable, and resourceful, so having a bird feeder is like “laying out a buffet for them.” Ultimately, he wanted to defer to Kilham and Reid about bears dos and don’ts.
For those that want to feed the birds, especially during the cold months, they can get a stainless-steel bear-proof bird feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited. They can also be taken in at night as an additional precaution.
Laura King from CVHAS was in attendance and shared that at the sanctuary they use bear-proof bird feeders, as well as red pepper bird feed from Wild Birds Unlimited that bears do not like.
“We’ve had zero issues over at the sanctuary,” King said.
Kilham said instead of leaving up bird feeders, people could consider just placing a handful or so of bird seed out at the same time every day. The birds can track the time and return to the spot to eat without the food having to be left out all the time for it to possibly attract bears.
Hubbard asked Kilham how the two bear cubs from Newtown, whose mother was killed by a resident earlier this year, were doing since being taken into his sanctuary.
“They are doing fine. We have 107 cubs … any cub who has been orphaned in any way shape or form or shown up somewhere hungry is brought here,” Kilham said.
An audience member, who mentioned they follow Kilham Bear Center on Instagram, asked Kilham if the cubs hibernate.
“They will if we really get a hard winter. The trouble is when we have these many cubs, it’s like a slumber party. If one wakes up, he wakes the rest of them up,” he answered to the roar of laughter over a cub sleep over.
The next species of wildlife that the panel discussed was coyotes. Rosenthal said that he has heard that coyotes see dogs as prey and asked the panel if that is the case.
Knox said, “Coyotes are animals that are highly opportunistic, very resourceful, one of the most successful mammals on the planet where we live. They view dogs, depending on the size of the dog, as a threat or prey, very simply.”
He suggested people keep their dogs, no matter what size, on a leash, especially around the denning and pupping season in late winter/early spring.
In that season, Knox said, they can be “very territorial and defensive” if they feel there is a threat to their pups.
Reid said if people are out for walks, they may unknowingly approach a denning site. When this happens, a coyote will likely show “escorting behavior” where it watches and then follows the person out of their area.
“If you have a small dog, I recommend you pick them up,” he said. “If you are out at night, coyotes are most active at dusk when we walk our dogs.”
Tools that people can keep with them are a bright flashlight and whistle as an extra precaution.
Reid added that, similar to bears, it is statistically proven it is unlikely a coyote would attack a human.
“They avoid conflict, but they are dangerous to small dogs … and senior dogs,” he said.
Rosenthal asked, “So if I hear a pack of coyotes howling, do I call the police and animal control?”
Mason said that they do receive a lot of calls about coyotes. She agreed with the earlier remarks, saying coyotes cannot distinguish between bunnies or fox, their usual prey, and a dog.
“That’s why we have to be very responsible in taking care of our dogs and keeping them safe,” Mason said.
Reid mentioned that while the public usually interprets the sound of coyotes to mean they made a kill, many times they are just communicating with one another upon reuniting after a hunt.
“Just like when you come home and your dogs go nuts, that’s kind of the same impulse gathering together. It’s a social thing. And it also defines the territory … by announcing their presence,” he said.
Mason said she understands the sound of coyotes can be scary and intimidating, but “it’s just the way of life. We have to be cautious and respect their lives and our lives together.”
According to Reid, using motion sensor lights outdoors can help deter them and he urges using a physical fence to protect dogs.
Rosenthal segued the conversation asking if coyote and fox populations have increased.
Knox said that the short answer is yes in general, because, “They expand and contract range based on opportunity. They will seek out new ranges … these eastern coyotes are adaptable.”
So much so that not only are they found in Connecticut towns, but also in its cities, such as New Haven and Hartford, he said.
“We do know they have colonized these areas — foxes as well,” Knox said.
What if a fox or coyote has made its den under a person’s deck or shed, Rosenthal asked the panel.
Reid answered that woodchucks will make their burrow under a shed and then hibernate, which leads to a fox killing it in the winter and using its burrow to have its babies.
Foxes are known to be great at eliminating rodents from areas, which also helps control tick populations, he noted.
Meanwhile, coyotes make their dens in densely wooded areas away from people and other animals.
Mason brought up that animal control gets calls about denning foxes on people’s property. She recommends that people be patient and that the family will leave in about five to six weeks.
To avoid foxes being tempted to use a deck or shed, Mason said people should be proactive in making sure those spots are sealed up to prevent them from going in.
CVHAS will have a spring wildlife panel on Sunday, March 19, at Newtown Community Center from 1 to 2:30 pm.
Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bear Facts, Advice, And Advisories
During the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary’s “Newtown Wildlife Panel: Safely Coexisting with Wildlife,” residents were encouraged to take a variety of informational handouts from Wildlife in Crisis, including one about bears. Here are some tips from Wildlife in Crisis for how to stay safe:
*Remove all food attractants from around your property. Bird feeders containing seed and suet are a major attractant. Taking in your feeders at dusk will reduce (but not eliminate) the likelihood of a bear visit. Do not hang bird feeders on a porch or patio at any time. Bears will climb onto a porch to reach these feeders which puts them in very close proximity to you.
*Be aware that chicken coops and beehives are major attractants to bears. The best way to protect coops and hives is through installation of an electric fence. To deter bears, a minimum of 6,000-7,000 volts is required. Temporary and battery-powered fencing is an option in some cases. There are many internet resources regarding proper electric fence installation.
*Keep your garbage cans in a garage or fully enclosed structure. Many garbage collection companies now require cans to be accessible to their trucks. Take your cans out immediately before collection. This will reduce the chance of a bear discovering your garbage can. Periodically clean your garbage can and recycling bin with a dilute bleach solution. Eliminating old food odors will make the cans less attractive to bears.
*Clean your grill and outdoor dining areas after use. The vestigial food odors on grills and dining surfaces can attract bears.
*Keep your garage doors closed! Open garages attract interest from a variety of wild species, including raccoons, skunks, snakes, and yes, bears.
*Do not feed pets outside. The presence of pet food outdoors is a major attractant to wild animals, up to and including bears.
*When hiking in open spaces, keep your dog on a lead. Bears will not seek conflict with a dog, but a bear will defend itself if a dog pursues them. It is a good idea to carry some form of bear deterrent when hiking. That can be a whistle, air horn, or bear spray.
*If you come face-to-face with a bear, make noise and act in an assertive manner, while gradually retreating and watching the bear. Clapping your hands can be effective if you don’t have a whistle or air horn. In most cases the bear will also retreat.
*If a bear comes toward you, stand your ground and make noise. Do not run from a bear, but gradually retreat the way you came, keeping the bear under observation the entire time. In the unlikely event that a bear attacks, stand your ground and fight back with whatever is at hand.
*Do not take selfies with bears! The proliferation of smart phone cameras seems to have created an impulse to take photos or videos of everything all the time. Bears can easily misinterpret the selfie-taking process. Photographing the bear should not be a priority! You can observe the bear from a distance as you retreat, and enjoy the experience, without documenting it on Facebook and Instagram.