We have had unusual incidents of wildlife turning up dead or dying in our neighborhood. We found a dead raccoon in our backyard on Poplar Drive on April 7 and the kind neighbor diagonally across the creek on Kennedy Street found a dead squirrel in her backyard a week prior. Twenty days after discovering the dead raccoon, another neighbor came across a sick and dying raccoon – also on Kennedy Street. None of the animals showed signs of trauma. I’ve been chatting with a lot of experts hoping to find the cause of this unusual occurrence of dead critters.
Rat poison is a possible cause because we do have rats — primarily because where we live, backing to Tripps Run, there are gabions. Gabions are rocks in wire cages. Fairfax County installed them years ago to stabilize the creek. Using gabions is now considered an outdated practice but they make a good habitat for rats to live. People may not like rats and mice but there are many reasons not to put out poison to kill them. Poison can be consumed by any number of non-targeted animals. And these poisoned animals are then eaten by other wildlife that in turn are also poisoned. More humane alternatives to poison include a ‘Rat Zapper’ or a spring/snap trap.
Another poison that animals get into is antifreeze — it’s made with a chemical called ethylene glycol. It is sweet tasting and highly toxic. Here’s a NY Times article on why antifreeze manufacturers are changing their formula to make it unpalatable to animals and people. If you have antifreeze stored in an area that wild critters, children or pets have access to, please move it to a secure location. If your auto is leaking antifreeze, this could attract wildlife or domesticated animals and can also cause certain death if consumed.
When I made my second call to Fairfax County Animal Control about the dead animals, Officer O’Connor suggested that the animals could have been shot with a .22. The bullet hole would be small enough to be indiscernible.
Although this seems far-fetched, a friend of mine knew a person who confessed to shooting squirrels at his bird feeders. He lived in Falls Church. Aren’t there times when you hear a loud sound and you think ‘that sounded like gunfire’ but you immediately dismiss it?
Officer O’Conner also stated that Animal Control does not test wildlife for poisons because it’s too costly. They will test an animal for rabies, like our dying raccoon, but only if it has been in physical contact with a person.
SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES and SECURING TRASH
Jane, from the Wildlife Rescue League, couldn’t add any additional insight about why our wildlife was turning up dead — except to state that animals don’t normally just up and die. She did suggest I chat with the Fairfax County Health Department. So I called FCHD and they gave me the number of Dr. Katherine Edwards, a wildlife biologist with Fairfax County.
Dr. Edwards, a Wildlife Management Specialist, listened to my account of the two raccoons and the squirrel and stated that there could be any number of reasons why the animals were killed. She felt that the circumstances were indeed suspicious. However, sometimes squirrels fall out of trees, she said, or animals get hit by vehicles and drag themselves elsewhere to die. She wanted me to stress to my neighbors the importance of securing trash bins so animals can’t access harmful items. Also, move your bin to the curbside in the morning instead of the night before pickup.
Debris or stacked items in a yard will create protected areas for small animals. Compost bins can also be a source of food. What is great is that in our suburban environment, our resident foxes, hawks and owls help keep rodent numbers in control. If you don’t care for rodents or other creatures on your property, eliminate sources of food and shelter — or just let nature keep the balance.
Please don’t harm our wildlife. Here is the law on killing wildlife in Virginia.
The unfortunate series of deaths remains a mystery. I hope it was a freaky occurrence that will not be repeated. For future reference, I’ve compiled some phone numbers that may come in handy:
Wildlife Rescue League: “If you have an injured animal or orphaned babies, please call our hotline at (703) 440-0800 so that your situation can be handled quickly.” These kind folks want to help our furry and feathery friends.
Non-Emergency Questions: (703) 391-8625
If you have a wildlife conflict, such as a raccoon living under your deck, please call the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline: (855) 571-9003
A great non-profit organization we’ve received help from for a mangy fox: The Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation: (703) 549-4987 (Alexandria)
Fairfax County Wildlife Biologist: Dr. Katherine Edwards: (703) 246-6868
The Wildlife Center of Virginia (Waynesboro)
Fairfax County Animal Control: (703) 691-2131
Call FCAC “For dog bites, animal cruelty or neglect, sick or injured wildlife or human exposure/encounters with potentially rabid wildlife.”
“Animals that pose a direct threat to public health and safety are a top priority. Animal Control responds to wildlife calls for injured, sick, or aggressive animals. Seriously injured or aggressive wildlife will be humanely euthanized.”
I don’t advise calling Animal Control if you are trying to help an animal, because they say that is not what they do.
This raccoon is just one of the many welcomed creatures that visit our backyard habitat.