Nature Boost Podcast
[Nat. sounds and intro music.]
Jill Pritchard: And welcome back to a new episode of Nature Boost, the Missouri Department of Conservation's podcast that brings people and nature together. I'm Jill Pritchard.
When polled, a majority of Missourians agree that one of their favorite nature pastimes is watching wildlife, but living in harmony with wildlife is another story. I'm joined today by my friends and MDC staff experts Lauren Hildreth and our Wildlife Damage Biologists Josh Wisdom and Daryl Damron.
Male: Thanks for having us.
Jill Pritchard: So, living with wildlife, you guys are kind of the people you call whenever, um, you're having issues with wildlife on your property, correct? Dealing with nuisance wildlife?
Male: That's correct. Yeah, that's correct.
Jill Pritchard: All right.
Male: Just general nuisance, conflict, property damage, loss associated with wildlife.
Jill Pritchard: What prompted you two to want to work in this area?
Daryl Damron: I thought I would be a good fit for is job because I'm a fur trapper. But really when I got into this job, I realized it's not about fur trapping. It's about assisting people. It's about helping people solve problems. I often tell people my job as a bartender during college probably suited me better for some of the things I deal with now as a damage biologist than actual, the wildlife management classes I took.
Because people, they don't like wildlife sometimes, and sometimes you have to deal with problems on their property.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah. Yeah, I can totally see that. What about you, Josh?
Josh Wisdom: Yeah. I'm from Mizzou. I'm a local kid. I grew up watching Jeremiah Johnson as a kid and that kind of stuff, and it was like, man, if I could just do that kind of work all the time, and Daryl's 100 percent correct. It's really people management, not animal management.
Daryl Damron: It is.
Josh Wisdom: You talk to a lot of Missouri residents on the phone and just kind of calm people down a lot of times.
Jill Pritchard: Um-hmm. Now, Daryl, you're based in Columbia?
Daryl Damron: I am. I'm officed in Columbia, but I have the northern 32 counties, the northeastern corner of the state, basically.
Jill Pritchard: And then Josh, you're kind of southwest-ish?
Josh Wisdom: Yup, I have 20 counties in the southwest corner. So, everything that touches Oklahoma, Arkansas, big chunks of national forest ground there. So just between me and Daryl, we're going to see vastly two different things because of the landscape.
Daryl Damron: Um-hmm.
Jill Pritchard: Right. Lauren, I know at MDC you're a big proponent of this topic. You know, why do you think it's so important for people to be aware of trying to help them coexist with wildlife?
Lauren Hildreth: Yeah, I mean I think the big thing is, you know, a lot of the folks I've interacted with, it's just people not understanding and not being educated. So, it's just a misunderstanding of why the squirrel's in their back yard, or why the coyotes walk through their front yard. You know, they don't have to be afraid. They can live with wildlife and be happy, both wildlife and people can end up living happily together, kind of in an ideal world with some cases. You know, sometimes animals do cause issues. And you know, you need to have something done. But a lot of the main problems can be alleviated through education and understanding the world around you. So, I'm a big proponent of this, just because you know, growing up, I didn't grow up hunting, fishing, really being outside much. And so, I kind of got a lot of my animal side from, you know, watching TV and watching Animal Planet and all of that. I feel like I still had some of that fear of, you know, if I saw a skunk in my backyard, I probably would have peed my pants, you know? Like I . . . [laughing.]
But you know, but now, if I saw one, I'd be like, OK. We're fine. Just keep, you know, keep going along. But you know, it's just kind of a different, different mentality. And folks in different parts of the state are going to know different things.
Jill Pritchard: Very well said. It always starts, anything, with spreading that awareness.
Lauren Hildreth: Yes.
Jill Pritchard: At first. I actually woke up to a possum in my front yard the other day.
Lauren Hildreth: Yes!
Jill Pritchard: It was kind of gross. My dog threw up.
Lauren Hildreth: And the possum was eating the throw-up?
Jill Pritchard: And the possum was eating the throw-up. [Laughing.]
Josh: They are scavengers.
Jill Pritchard: So, do you get more common calls, certain calls during certain times of year, I'm guessing, you know?
Daryl Damron: Yeah, think our busiest time of year, of course, is during the spring when all animals come back out. They start having young of the year. They find burrows to do that nesting and denning. That's the busiest time of year. And then, of course, the fall is busy, too.
Jill Pritchard: So do you have any bizarre or crazy stories, funny stories, dealing with wildlife? I'm sure you have a lot. But I'm just curious.
Josh Wisdom: I've gotten lots of things out of buildings, hawks out of buildings, warehouses, apartment buildings, raccoons, whatever. The occasional deer in a building.
Jill Pritchard: Wow!
Josh Wisdom: We've had bears in buildings in Missouri.
Daryl Damron: Yup, sure have.
Josh Wisdom: So, you never know what's going to happen. Every day is a different day.
Jill Pritchard: So OK, Tina the Turkey. That was just an interesting topic out of Columbia.
Daryl Damron: Uh well, Tina was a young male turkey that started hanging around some businesses in central Columbia. It became a friendly critter to most people that were around. Some businesses nicknamed it Tina, and it hung around and they fed it. It got a following. You know, there was a big following on Facebook and other places. People named it Tina. They made tee shirts for it. He almost had a foundation.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah, like a little mascot.
Daryl Damron: Yeah, a little mascot. He lived around a very busy intersection. It's caused traffic to back up at times and caused actually some fender benders.
Jill Pritchard: I read even at one point, he led police on a chase?
Daryl Damron: He did. He made the 6:00 news. Columbia Police Department was chasing him around with sheets and trying to capture him. And then we got involved a couple of days later. So, we had a few members of our staff chase it around as well. We finally made a decision to get rid of him and move him to somewhere else. But he ended up getting hit by a truck on one of those busy roads, and we tried to capture it with some safe means. We were there, you know, and the guys with Public Safety, but before it hurt somebody bad. Yeah.
Lauren Hildreth: And Tina was doing a lot of property damage, too, correct? Jumping on car roofs?
Daryl Damron: Some. Some. But mostly stopping traffic. He'd walk out in the middle of an intersection at 4:00 in the afternoon and just stop traffic, basically.
Jill Pritchard: I'm a little conflicted hearing this because I think that is a good segue into, um, another topic I wanted to talk about as far as leaving wildlife wild. I think that's the beauty of human nature, is that we all kind of have that soft spot for animals. We like having our pets, but there's a difference between pets and wildlife as far as, I mean they were feeding that turkey. And then it kind of lost its fear of humans.
Daryl Damron: Yeah, he did. Yeah, that's what happened. He was displaced from, his mom was probably hit by a car or something, and he was the only turkey left out of that, the only poult left out of that group. And so, he just kind of hung around and found food and water. I mean how many Facebook followers did he have? Do you remember? 2000? 2900? Something like that?
Jill Pritchard: Yeah, there were, yeah. I think so.
Lauren Hildreth: I think 3000 or so.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah. I mean it was a big following on there.
Daryl Damron: It was. Yeah.
Jill Pritchard: It was almost, Tina was like a little local celebrity.
Daryl Damron: Yeah. They held a vigil for him after he died. At 8:00 in the evening the day he died, they had a vigil planned and there was 30 or 40 people there with candles. I think maybe that's extreme, but you're right. People do get attached to wildlife, especially when they get to see it every day.
Lauren Hildreth: Yeah.
Jill Pritchard: But I think especially, uh, that's a big campaign of MDC's in the spring is, like you were saying, when all the newborn babies are coming about and you tend to think that some wildlife looks abandoned, but they're really not. And people have a tendency to bring animals into their homes and feed them, kind of a can of worms you don't really want to open.
Daryl Damron: No, you don't want to feed wildlife. Especially orphaned wildlife. Leave it alone. Leave it there. Some of it's going to perish. But some of it's going to perish anyway.
Josh Wisdom: Yeah.
Daryl Damron: That's just the way it is. Nearly zero chance. If you try to rehabilitate that animal or take it in and raise it, yeah you can keep it alive. But once you turn it loose, it doesn't have a chance, really.
Josh Wisdom: And a big thing, too. I mean this might sound harsh, but you've got to listen to me, is there's no waste in nature. So even if it's a juvenile raccoon that expires, well now that's food for that possum, and she's going to feed it to her babies or whatever. So, there are other things that are going to need that food source, whether it's a dead juvenile of that year, to feed their juveniles. Coyotes feeding coyote pups, etc. You either got to be for wildlife, you can't pick favorites. Well, I like raccoons, but I don't like coyotes. I like this, I don't like that. It's all, it's all part of a system.
Jill Pritchard: And you have your own story with that bear down at the Lake of the Ozarks that people were feeding.
Josh Wisdom: Um-hmm.
Jill Pritchard: And that was the bear that was caught on camera swimming, correct?
Josh Wisdom: Yup. And so, I mean we could have a whole deal on bears. But yeah. Obviously, the big thing we always stress is never feed a bear. And the reason for that, and we say this, a fed bear is a dead bear. In that particular case, the bear didn't have to be put down. But the bear did go through harassment, a tool we use to harass bears. He had an unpleasant experience on purpose. That's the point, is to get it to make sure it instills that fear in humans and to not like that particular location it was hanging out around. But yeah, any time that you feed wildlife, ultimately it's the wildlife that loses. Either bears become habituated and ultimately have to be put down, if people are, let's say feeding white bread to ducks and geese in a city park, the geese get all fat, basically. They have, you know, angel wing. There's a whole bunch - it's basically like if you just lived on a study diet of donuts. You have all kinds of health issues. So ultimately . . .
Jill Pritchard: Homer Simpson.
Josh Wisdom: Yeah. You know, Homer Simpson. So, they're going to start having health issues. You're going to have weird diseases pop up. There's a lot of problems with feeding any type of wildlife. And like you were saying, people like to nurture things. And it's a fine line because you want people to appreciate nature. You can understand why they want to see it. But you've got to have everything in a context. And so again, now everybody's got, I got two different smartphones here on my desk. But you know, take your picture and go on. Enjoy the moment, but we don't have to have raccoons eating out of our hands to enjoy wildlife.
Jill Pritchard: Very well said.
Lauren Hildreth: And there's also kind of the rule of thumb, too, with leaving wildlife wild, is depending on how large the animal is, if you hold up one thumb, if you can put like the animal behind your thumb, then you're far enough away. So, like with a chipmunk, you can be a little bit closer because they're smaller. But if it's a bear, you'll have to be a lot farther away. Because I know, I mean we hear, "Be 100 yards away." I'm terrible at distance judging. So even if you said a football field, I don't really know when I'm in the woods what that means. But if you kind of do that rule of thumb, is it at least gives people a little more of a consistent thing to say OK, I'm far enough away, realizing it's not like chipmunks are going to come like grab your leg or anything.
Josh Wisdom: And kind of on that same school of thought, another reason I don't like for people to start feeding wildlife is what happens in today's age is you have, we're going to say a bear because everybody can understand. People feed a bear in a backyard, and then so they're getting all these cool pictures and they're putting them on Facebook. Well, now his neighbor wants the same kind of picture. So, he starts putting food out in his backyard.
Jill Pritchard: Oh yeah.
Josh Wisdom: And before you have it, within two weeks there's six different food plots down this backyard with this bear now just lives in these people's yards all the time. And things escalate very, very quickly.
Feeding is always ultimately bad. And even if it's on purpose or not
Lauren Hildreth: Also, unusual food sources, too, would be not thinking about oh, your grill is food. Or even just a bowl of dog food, it could be empty, and just the residual is enough to bring them close, whether or not they're actually getting that food reward. They're still getting close enough that maybe they find something else, or maybe you see them for the first time when they walk up to investigate the food bowl. That's enough of an, "Oh, there's a raccoon on my back, you know, back porch," that sort of thing. So that goes for lots of other animals as well. So, it's just kind of thinking about if I was wildlife, what would be attracting to me to this property?
Jill Pritchard: Right. Yeah. Yeah. I can totally see that.
Josh Wisdom: A lot of times, you can just remove that food source for a short period of time, and those animals will go find some other place to locate food.
Jill Pritchard: Still kind of related along this, but we were talking about, especially in this day of social media, you know, everybody's got to get a picture. Everybody's got to take a video. We see a lot of these videos posted online of people saving what they think are abandoned wildlife. What are your thoughts on those types of videos that we see? I mean because they are heartwarming, and they are sweet. Are we ultimately doing the animal a disservice?
Daryl Damron: I think so. I think we are. Yeah.
Josh Wisdom: A couple of quick things. For instance, let's say baby raccoons. That's a big thing. People like them, especially . . .
Jill Pritchard: It's there, like hands that I really like.
Josh Wisdom: They get all fat and chubby, you know, that kind of thing. People actually, you know, and I appreciate that. One, when they get old, they get real mean. Everybody I've ever talked to, from you know, people that their grandparents used to do it or whatever, it was a different time a hundred years ago. But people would have raccoons. They almost always got really mean when they got old. They ended up letting them go or putting them down. And so again, if it was a raccoon that you raised as a pet in your house, and now it's basically, it can never be wild because it doesn't know how to be wild.
Jill Pritchard: Right.
Josh Wisdom: And then especially with raccoons, you have like raccoon roundworm and a bunch of parasites that are naturally in those animals that now you may be exposing yourself to that you would needlessly need to be doing that.
Jill Pritchard: There was actually a woman contacted me. She was wanting to know about the turtle in St. Louis. Tell the story of Peanut.
Lauren Hildreth: One of the, like a six-pack of soda, the little plastic rings got around a turtle. And then it just continued to grow, and the plastic restricted its shell growth. And so, it just kind like turned into this little hourglass peanut shape, kind of become our litter prevention mascot. Because yeah, I mean it's very clear it was hampered by . . . but I don't know what all, if there's anything wrong or if they did any X-rays of like internal organs, how that shifted because of the plastic ring.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah, I'm not sure, either. It seems to be doing OK, though. I mean . . .
Lauren Hildreth: It's a pretty big size now.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah. What would you like people to take away from this as far as co-existing with wildlife?
Daryl Damron: You know, wildlife causing damage, as a landowner, as a homeowner or whatever, you have property. Wildlife code provides you the right to protect your property against wildlife causing damage beyond a reasonable doubt. You can shoot that wildlife, you can trap that wildlife to get it off your property. And you can do that. Lethal control is not necessarily the best long-term solution. Many times, excluding that wildlife from coming back is a long-term fix, and killing that one animal is really just putting a bandaid on a bigger problem. So, something you need to think about. You have the right to remove that wildlife, but sometimes you need to change the way you do business to prevent that from happening over and over and over again. I mean I think that's a key takeaway.
Lauren Hildreth: And I think also just because you see wildlife in your backyard doesn't necessarily mean that they're an issue. And that if you see a raccoon or a possum in your backyard, and you may not - they're not doing damage, but maybe kind of taking a step back and looking at your property and seeing what could they potentially get into? And maybe trying to fix some of that ahead of time before there's an issue could also be a way to kind of take a step back and prevent things from happening as well. But definitely, that exclusion is a big piece.
Daryl Damron: You know, when people build a subdivision, a lot of times they build big retaining walls, and they put boulders in place to hold back soil from yard back behind you or whatever. And you're really just creating a home for groundhogs. But are groundhogs really all that bad? I mean really?
Lauren Hildreth: They're stinkin' cute, is what they are.
Jill Pritchard: My dog loves to chase them.
Daryl Damron: Unless they're threatening a foundation or a slab of concrete or something by burrowing under that, if they're in your backyard, back against a retaining wall made of boulders, they're really just kind of cool to have around. We talked earlier about red foxes. We get a lot of red fox calls from inside city limits in the spring of the year because they seem to want to burrow right beside and have a den and have pups right beside people's houses, or under sheds or that sort of thing. They're not hurting anything. I take lots of calls every spring. I know Josh does, too. But we try to get people to just admire them, enjoy them, take their picture, put it on Facebook and do all those kind of things, and enjoy them for a period of time. Then they're going to be gone. They'll move those pups on and you just have to deal with them for a little while. In the meantime, they're going to drag a bunch of dead birds and moles and voles to your house and feed it to their pups, or kits. But they're getting rid of those things that don't necessarily get rid of ourselves, like moles and voles and that sort of thing.
Jill Pritchard: And that's actually one thing I think many people don't realize, too, is that hey, there's actually a benefit to them, too.
Daryl Damron: Oh, sure. Absolutely.
Lauren Hildreth: Possums eat ticks.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah.
Josh Wisdom: So, one, just because you see anything, it doesn't mean it's life or death. Uh, two, a lot of times, people will call because, "Well, there was a coyote. My dog was barking at it, or it was barking at my dog." Have you tried turning a light on? Have you tried honking your car horn? Have you just went out there and yelled at it? Have you done literally anything? And Springfield where I'm at, I could point on a map places I have pretty constant coyote appearances.
Jill Pritchard: Sure.
Josh Wisdom: I'm not going to call them problems, but appearances.
Jill Pritchard: Um-hmm.
Josh Wisdom: These coyotes were born in the same town you were. They see people every day, just like you are. They've never been hunted. They've never been trapped. They've never been chased by a dog, for the most part. So, they've never had a negative interaction with a person in their life. Not to say that they're unafraid of you as if they look at you as a prey item. But they're unafraid of you just like deer on golf courses are unafraid of golfers. I see it every day, and I've never had a problem. So, like especially this time of year, going into now February, coyotes are naturally in their breeding cycle. So, they get a little bit antsy. And they don't see dogs as a dog. It's competition. It's something that's going to try to compete with my mate, compete with my food, compete with my territory. And so again, have you ever just tried being "mean?" You know, like I said, yelling, doing anything negative, just a negative interaction with that wildlife to make it understand that this is not a safe place for you to go. I mean very simple, kind of like Daryl saying, just changes the way you do business. Just think on a bigger scale. That will get you a long way.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah. Absolutely.
Daryl Damron: Normal for that, like Josh said, normal for that urban coyote is not the same normal as a coyote that lives in rural Missouri who gets chased by dogs, gets shot at, gets pursued all the time. Normal for him is just to watch you walk by on the sidewalk.
Lauren Hildreth: And just keeping dogs leashed and all of that, too. Yeah, banging pots and pans.
Daryl Damron: Being a good pet steward is the best way to protect your pet from all wildlife.
Lauren Hildreth: Yup.
Daryl Damron: We get a lot of calls. I know Josh does, and I do, too, about is a red tail hawk going to kill my cat, are these coyotes going to kill my cat? Honestly, if you're a good pet steward, you're going to protect that cat from cars and dogs and owls and all those other things as well. Be a good pet steward.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah, absolutely.
Daryl Damron: Small dogs, late at night, if you're letting them out, you should probably be with them if you have coyotes in your area. They've been known to kill dogs.
Josh Wisdom: House cats.
Daryl Damron: House cats, those sort of things.
Jill Pritchard: Just being proactive.
Daryl Damron: Be a good pet steward. To know the coyotes are there is key.
Jill Pritchard: Have you ever just had like just something so nonsense they call you about?
Josh Wisdom: Sasquatch.
Jill Pritchard: No.
Josh Wisdom: I'm serious. More than once. You've had Sasquatch calls, haven't you?
Daryl Damron: Oh, yeah. Chupacabra. Sasquatch.
Lauren Hildreth: Chupacabra is potentially a coyote with mange.
Daryl Damron: It's a mangy coyote.
Josh Wisdom: Or a mangy bear or whatever.
Lauren Hildreth: But Sasquatch, I mean . . .
Daryl Damron: Black Panthers.
Josh Wisdom: Black Panthers all the time.
Daryl Damron: That's the biggest one.
Jill Pritchard: Yeah . . .
Daryl Damron: They simply don't exist, but people think they do.
Josh Wisdom: But again, things like that happen.
Jill Pritchard: I'm sure at this point, you've kind of heard everything under the sun.
Daryl Damron: Just when you think you've heard it all, something new will come along.
Lauren Hildreth: Tomorrow I'm going to get a phone call.
Daryl Damron: Oh, yeah.
Josh Wisdom: So, Daryl and I are also, we're kind of unique that we do have chemical immobilization, for lack of a better word. Tranquilizer darts.
Jill Pritchard: OK, thank you for . . .
Josh Wisdom: Professionals call it chemical immobilization.
Jill Pritchard: Gotcha.
Josh Wisdom: And so I mean we've been asked, I've helped agents before with like illegal pets that people weren't supposed to have, like captive wolves, things like that.
Jill Pritchard: Really?
Josh Wisdom: That were completely not right, not legal, stuff like that we've been tasked for before, too.
Daryl Damron: Deer jumps through a plate glass window at a grocery store or something in rural Missouri, you'll get a call. "Can you dart this?" Yeah. We can do that.
Lauren Hildreth: You two are the only two damage biologists that have that?
Daryl Damron: All six of us.
Josh Wisdom: All six of us.
Lauren Hildreth: Oh, OK.
Daryl Damron: There are six damage biologists in the state. We all have pretty big territories.
Lauren Hildreth: That makes sense.
Daryl Damron: Yeah.
Jill Pritchard: That's really all I had, guys. Do you have anything else you'd like to add as far as final takeaways?
Lauren Hildreth: Leave wildlife wild!
Daryl Damron: Enjoy wildlife. And if you have a problem with it, call somebody. Call one of our offices. Our people are very well versed at giving you answers, for the most part. And if they don't have the answer, they'll pass it on to a conservation agent and then on to us, if it's out of their expertise.
Lauren Hildreth: And you can also, our website has a wealth of information. Look at our website. Look at some of the videos we've made. Lots of things just try to educate yourself on, you know, the issue you're having and see whether or not you can handle it yourself, or if you need a little bit more guidance from an MDC staffer. That also is a great way to kind of start some of that conversation.
Daryl Damron: Our program is an extension program. So, we'll be helping you. We usually don't do it for people.
Josh Wisdom: I guess kind of a closing thought, I guess, on my end is so, everything is about how you look at it. So especially with wildlife in urban areas or whatever, you're fortunate. The fact that in South Missouri, you can see maybe a bear in your yard in some parts. You can see a coyote and a fox and a deer and a turkey all in the same yard. That's fortunate. And one, I think it's good that people can have that connection to wildlife, even in a fairly urban area. I think's good that it's important. It's a valuable resource. These are native species. I think that's important. And I hope maybe that's enough to kind of spur people, especially as we seem to have this disconnect from wildlife, that they really do serve a purpose. They are valuable. So, it's all kind of perspective. It's an opportunity. It's not a problem.
Jill Pritchard: Very well said.
Daryl Damron: We build a lot of green space into our communities. And this is the result. We have wildlife. Thankfully we do.
Lauren Hildreth: Yeah. That was not the case, what, 50 years ago?
Daryl Damron: Um-hmm.
Josh Wisdom: Very true.
Jill Pritchard: All right. Thank you all so much. I think this is a really informative discussion.
I want to, again, thank my guests MDC Wildlife Program Supervisor Lauren Hildreth, and our Wildlife Damage Biologists Daryl Damron and Josh Wisdom. For more information on living with wildlife, visit missouriconservation.org.
And thanks again for listening to Nature Boost. This is Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation urging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors.
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