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Living the wild life: new animal intruder surfaces in the city

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
October 1st, 2018

If you smell a rat in Nelson this year, you are not alone.

The rodents have been more of a problem in the Queen City this year than they have ever been, according to Wildsafe BC area coordinator David White, and it is a new, but unexplained, occurrence.

“This is something that seems to have happened in the last year. No idea where they came from,” he said.

There isn’t enough data to really identify hot areas in the city for rats, White said, but the rodents do seem to be more of a Fairview issue, with some Uphill sightings.

“Historically these guys would transport themselves,” he said, noting they have been found in abundance in Creston, with Vancouver having its fair share of them (since the 1800s).

The first rat caught in Nelson was a Norwegian rat — the kind found in New York City — in 2017 in Gyro Park, and that is a miracle in itself, White explained.

“It’s not so much (a miracle) that we haven’t had them until now, but that we haven’t had them for so long,” he said.

The city and the rural areas have had the pack rat for years, but not the Norwegian rat.

White said the year has been an unusual year for wildlife in Nelson, with other creatures generating more complaints than the black bear. Usually 90 per cent of complaints regarding wildlife in Nelson revolve around the black bear.

This year was a low average year for black bear complaints, said White. There were record low complaints across province.

“So where have all of the bears gone? We don’t know,” he said.

Some reports from loggers at high elevation were that they are seeing them up there.

“So maybe they are going higher this year,” than coming down into urban areas, White said.

Garbage continues to be the largest attractant for bears coming in to Nelson, he added, even given that most people don’t put (garbage) out at night in the city. Garbage is a bit of a “gateway drug” for bears, it brings them in close to people.

“When they get accustomed to being around people they become habituated and they become more assertive or aggressive in looking for food (breaking into sheds),” he said.

Bear complaints dropped, lowering to just over 50 calls, down from a high of 210 in 2016.

Cougar activity growing

The big cats have been active this year on the North Shore, said White, with cougar complaints increasing dramatically, rising from six to 26 in 2018.

“I don’t’ know if this is consistent with rest of province, but they (have been active) mostly on North Shore,” he said. “They have been working their way from Johnstone Road all of the way to Six Mile, killing all sorts of pets and chickens along the way.”

White recommended people still keep pets inside from dawn to dusk.

It was a record year in North America for cougar attacks on humans, with one taking place in Oregon and another in Washington, and two attacks on young children occurring in the Kootenays: one in Fernie and the other in Christina Lake.

“It does seem to show that there is an interesting trend; it could be due to fires driving cougar’s prey down into populated areas,” said White, noting that was only a theory since he had no data to support it.

Keeping it in the can

Issues that cause problems with the rats also cause problems with skunks, said White.

“So whatever we do to control the skunks will also control the rats,” he said.

Many things around the house can contribute to skunk issues, such as piles of wood, big cracks in concrete works where they can nest, old structures, tall grass and leaving garbage outside. A big problem in Nelson is old sheds left open that no one uses anymore, White explained.

“That’s total skunk habitat,” he said.

Frequent watering of lawns in Nelson drives worms up to the surface and it attracts robins but also skunks.

“I think the message we are getting loud and clear is we don’t want toput wildlife at risk. So the more we can do to eliminate food sources in the city and keep them in the wild the better,” said Mayor Deb Kozak.

If given the right circumstances, the number of rats and skunks will reduce to a healthy number, said White.

“Unfortunately, in Nelson we’ve created a perfect storm of food and shelter for the proliferation of skunks,” he said.

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