Fall has come and the squirrels have lost their tiny minds. Heedless of their own safety, they rummage all the live-long day in my yard, obsessed with burying peanuts, walnuts, acorns, whatever they think will get them through the winter. Hello? This is Portland, Oregon. If we get frost two nights running, we think we’re going to die. My neighbors put out corn cobs all year around. Hear me, squirrels, this is totally unnecessary. Get your little paws the hell out of my pots!
I love wildlife. Dealing with wildlife has been my profession, my hobby, my delight. I was a zookeeper for a dozen years! I write zoo mysteries! I donate to most of world’s conservation organizations! But those little bastards… No, steady there… Deep releasing breath…
The problem is I love plants, too. I grow many of them in pots because my soil is terrible. Pots have loose, luscious, eminently diggable soil. Perfect for marauding rodents to rummage through, killing trillium seedlings and delicate ferns and, horrors, my expensive, sensitive, any-excuse-to-die lady slipper orchids.
It seems that here in the middle of a big city in the United States, I share a problem with maize growers in Botswana and palm nut plantations in Borneo and foresters in Scotland. Wild animals trash the plants I have other plans for. My pain is far less than their pain because I’m not trying to feed a family or run a business based on my pots. I’m a hobbyist. But the conflict is not all that different.
What to do? The traditional solution is to kill the wildlife. But the elephants of Botswana and the orangutans of Borneo are in big trouble. (The red deer of Scotland are doing fine with careful management.) Those of us who love wildlife would like these distant people to use other solutions. Please, we ask, leave enough natural landscape for elephants and find non-lethal ways to deter them from trampling crops. Stop clearing rainforest so orangutans aren’t driven by starvation to the oil palms. Find ways to live with wildlife, cut back on transforming habitats for human purposes, “live lightly so that others may live.”
Easier said than done. Take those squirrels (please!). Mulching with flat stones helps (not practical for seedlings). Pepper flakes work until it rains—Portland, remember? I’ve barricaded my bird feeders. I’ll admit, when they uprooted the Goodyera oblongifolia for the third time, lethal control started to look good.
I sucked it up. Now my yard is adorned with chicken wire cages, caging out the varmints. Not pretty, but it works.
I don’t think it would work for Africa or Indonesia.
My hat is off to those conservationists who are out in the fields and plantations negotiating for wildlife, seeking ways that will feed the children without creating a world fit only for our kind (a sad and dangerous concept). This isn’t just an issue for distant lands. Here in Oregon, robins eat blueberries, coyotes eat lambs, and deer eat grape vines. I honor those farmers, orchardists, and foresters who sacrifice profits to maintain wild populations because they want to keep the rich biota we started with. I salute their efforts and do what I can to support them. Take a look around your community and see who deserves your support for holding the line against a humans-only landscape.
And send me any tips you have about curing obsessive squirrels.
zoo mystery, living with wildlife, squirrel problem, Night Kill