Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/26/09)

On a summer's eve at dusk, meinie Überfrau called me to watch two baby skunks at play. They nosed around in our flower garden, tumbling and wrestling, when suddenly a squadron of squawking ravens flew overhead. The skunks scooted beneath our deck.

Best appreciated from afar, I've always had an affinity for skunks because their spray smelled from afar recalls vacations as a child. I knew we were out of the city and on our way when I smelled skunks.

Parenthetically, a client once told me that she relished diesel exhaust because it reminded her of Parisian diesel buses during her student days.

What to do? Everyone has friends and relatives best kept at a distance, having suffered their spray in times past. Email keeps them at bay. How to save the skunks, the better to relish their odor from afar? After rebuffs from several governmental agencies, Arizona Game and Fish gave me the telephone number of Dan Caputo of Arizona Wildlife Consultants.

As with everything else, it's in the mindset, that is, how to think about the problem. Dan's mindset is training, as in training a puppy, training elk, deer, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and other unwelcome critters to keep a distance.

This is best done by making them uncomfortable. Dan says it's giving wildlife a sense that the garden is "not a safe place."

If gardeners want to keep those gorgeous elk and deer and ugly javelina from mowing down their tulips, a shot or two of cougar urine would make them feel unwelcome, indeed, threatened. Electric fencing works, but it's iffy with children. Coyote urine does the same for squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and other small varmints.

In addition to the deer and elk's senses of smell, their sight is acute, giving them a heightened sense of motion which means motion sensors during the evening and early morning feeding hours. Once the alarms are sounded, beating pots and pans, flashing lights, and streams of water makes them feel unwelcome. It would me.

The ammonia of a malodorous cat's litter box offends one and all. Rags, soaked in ammonia, placed here and there in a garden will do wonders to discomfit wildlife.

Sight and smell can be used to freak out skunks. In addition to some shots of coyote urine and ammonia soaked rags, a windsock emblazoned as a hawk puts out the unwelcome mat. Cayenne pepper also irks them.

Squirrels' vulnerable senses are sight and sound. Banging pots and pans and water hoses makes squirrels feel unwelcome. Now, of course, not all squirrels are the same. Flagstaff's flagship squirrel, the Abert's, isn't as destructive as the antelope ground squirrel and the rock squirrel. The latter two relish the fruits of a garden as I discovered when I watched a rock squirrel savor a Sasha's Altai tomato on our deck and then leisurely sun itself as it digested my tomato. I was so charmed by its insouciance that I couldn't bring myself to chase it away.

On the contrary, Dan said, gardeners shouldn't train wildlife to hang around the garden. Feeding them is like throwing out the welcome mat, especially for the deer and elk, it's training them not to forage for themselves and, thus, not survive.

As for gophers, Dan suggested galvanized grates. A friend of mine urinates down their tunnels but makes no claims for efficacy other than emotional relief as in "There! Damn you." Apparently, no re-education program has, as yet, been developed for prairie dogs.

Persistence and perseverance are Dan's watch words. Training wildlife is not a one shot job. Also, trapping and releasing is just a Bandaid. The animals will either come back or others will take their place.

Sadly, Dan pleads ignorance about harvesting cougar and coyote urine, suggesting instead Googling the internet for a source.

With a passion for wildlife Dan knows whereof he speaks. Raised in Flagstaff, he graduated from NAU with a degree in biology and was for ten years a wildlife manager and biologist with the Department of Game and Fish, responsible for the area from Flagstaff to Camp Verde. His
telephone number is (928) 864-6768.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

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