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Friday, March 24, 2017

Pack Rat vs Flashing Light

Pack Rat vs Flashing Light

I often get asked if those flashing light devices being sold on-line and at many hardware stores have any effect on pack rats.  The lights are almost $50 each.

I have tested these devices with a pack rat in a terrarium and rigged the flashing light where I could turn it on and off remotely. I observed no change in the rat behavior with the light on or off.   

But was this fair? A captive rat has no where to run and can't get away. So I ran another test with a wild rat in an outside nest. Do they work?  Watch and you decide.

Living with Javelina!

Living with Javelina!
If you have had issues with pack rats - there is a good chance you have had issues with javelina!

Pack rats and javelina are both natural inhabitants of our beautiful Sonoran desert and both can be pests.

Prevention 1st!
Like pack rats - prevention goes a long way.

Limit food sources - if you provide a good food source, they will come - again & again!
  • Never leave food out for javelina. Feeding javelina can cause them to lose their natural fear of people, creating a problem for the entire neighborhood.
  • Don't use quail blocks where javelina can get to them
  • Secure any outside trash cans so they cannot be pushed over and do not put out the trash the night before pick up.
  • Consider javelina resistant plants in exposed areas. The U of A publishes a list you can find here.
  • Keep your garage closed. I had three javelina in my garage destroy a bag of dog food in the middle of the day!
Limit water - unlike pack rats, javelina must have a water source within their range.
  • Avoid having fountains and ponds in areas accessible to javelina.
  • Avoid over watering and keep your irrigation system in good repair. Javelina LOVE mud!  Drip emitters should be buried underground with only a "pigtail" sticking out above the surface. This is a great tip for squirrels, skunks and pack rats too - all of which will bite off an exposed emitter causing a big leak the next time the system turns on. 
Limit shade - when homes are built in the desert, the environment changes. There will be more vegetation due to runoff from streets, roofs, patios and driveway. Keeping things natural actually takes work!
  • Create a "buffer-zone" around your home where you trim and thin excess vegetation to maintain a more open and natural environment.
  • Pay special attention to low hanging branches. Avoid umbrella-like canopies so the sun can get to the ground. 
The Occasional Javelina
If you encounter javelina on a walk or in your yard just follow some basic commonsense steps and enjoy their presence.

Do's & don'ts
  • Never approach; enjoy from a distance. Javelina have very poor eye sight and are easily startled.  
  • If you turn the corner and find yourself too close for comfort by accident just back away slowly.
  • If the javelina is coming in your direction, or is an an area you where you need to go, stand still and make a loud noise by clapping your hands and shouting. In almost all cases, once the javelina knows you are there it will go away in another direction. If the javelina has young, it may make some defensive moves and noises, just to let you know to keep your distance before it leaves the area.
  • NEVER walk a dog without a leash, no matter how well trained,  in an area where javelina may be present. Javelina have a great sense of smell and can smell a dog from a distance.  Coyotes are an enemy of javelina and any dog nearby can trigger an aggressive defensive response that can include charging, noise making and teeth clacking. Your dog may see this as a threat (or challenge) and respond in kind.  Javelina can be amazingly fast and the dog will come out for the worse and may be killed in a fight. If you encounter a javelina with a dog - immediately withdraw from the area. 
The Pesky Javelina
Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, you may encounter javelina that become a reoccurring problem. What to do then? 

Two words - Behavior Modification!

Javelina are creatures of habit and can be trained to avoid an area with some simple procedures.  You just need to use their natural behavior against them.

Javelina do not like to be startled or surprised - so from a safe distance - startle and surprise them.  Good techniques - a loud cap gun or air horn.  A strong shot from a garden hose works too. You can even get a motion activated device that will send out a quick blast of water when an animal is detected in the protected zone. Here is a link to one made by Hav-a-hart.

Using a single wire charged by an electric fence transformer mounted about 8" off the ground is more extreme, but can be very effective too. 

Javelina have an excellent sense of smell - make that shot of water even more unpleasant by using a "super-soaker" type squirt gun with  some diluted (10%) vinegar or ammonia.  Do not spray javelina in the eyes, since even a diluted spray could cause damage.  Use the type of squirt gun that shoots 30-40' so you can maintain a safe distance.

You can also sprinkle some ammonia on the ground in areas javelina keep frequenting.

The key to effective behavior modification is consistency.  Once you start you have to stick to it until the javelina "learn" to avoid the area.  Inconsistent efforts may have the opposite effect and the javelina will just learn to ignore your attempts.

For more information about Javelina check out this link from Arizona Game & Fish.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Original Hoarders

Pack Rats - the Original Hoarders

I am often asked, "Do you ever find something valuable in a pack rat nest?

My answer, not really, but occasionally we do find something interesting. Pack rats are fascinating creatures and I never cease to be amazed at some of the things they decide to "collect".

Above is a sample of some recent finds.  

A. Plug - no cord, just the plug. Pack rats are notorious for their love of chewing wires. In this case the rat neatly severed the plug from the cord and took it home as a souvenir. 

B. Rubber Ducky - who does not love a rubber ducky? Pack rats do! The size of this rubber ducky is about the size of a pack rat's body. Why would the rat grab it and drag it all the way home? One of life's great mysteries. 

C. Walking Wind-up Teeth - never let it be said pack rats do not have a sense of humor.

D. Balls - in this case three University of Arizona play golf balls, all nibbled upon.  More than any other man-made object pack rats love and collect balls.  Balls, balls, balls - golf balls, tennis balls, wiffle balls, even a soccer ball once. Pack rats love balls! 

E. Toy Fire engine - this is not some match box toy. This is an old die-cast toy from the fifties. 

F. Jesus - when everything in the world wants to eat you, it never hurts to have a little religion.

G. Bow Tie - adult pack rats live alone, but they are social and do interact with other rats. Sometimes maybe formally. 

H. Squeaky Toy Poodle - the best pack rat finds come from nests near homes with small children or dogs.  The rats love to "borrow" toys of all types.

I. Flip Flop - Do you ever leave your flip flops outside by the patio door and find one missing? Somebody did. It is incredible that a rat could carry something as big and heavy as a flip flop off. Note that the fabric "upper" has been completely chewed off.  

J. HO Train track - I have to ask myself - where do the rats find this stuff? 

H. Pack of Cigarettes - these were were found in a nest about forty feet away from a patio table where they were left. The owner was not happy to find them missing. 

L. Silver Spoon - A personal favorite of mine because there is a wonderful children's book called Desert Night Shift, by Conrad J. Storad, that I read to my grandchildren. The main character of the book, Penny Pack Rat, experiences many perils searching for a silver spoon as a gift for her Nana. A great book for kids, and yes indeed pack rats do seek out silver spoons. 

M. Sheriff's Badge - another toy. Finding a toy in a rat nest never get old and always makes my day.

N. Champagne Cork (slightly chewed) - Champagne, black ties - who knows what goes on while we are asleep and the pack rats roam.

99% of what pack rats collect is natural- sticks, stones, cactus. They also collect dead small animal carcasses, animal dung of all types, snake skins and bones. Most of the rest is trash. The items pictured were found in the process of removing hundreds of pack rat nests over a period of months.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ignorance Kills

Ignorance Kills

A Great Horned Owl killed by rat poison found in the Tucson foothills

People just don't realize how dangerous rat bait can be for local wildlife.  Poison rodent bait is designed to be used only for three specific types of rodents - Roof Rats, Norway Rats and House mice.  The poison is meant to be used in urban areas and all rodenticide labels caution against the use of poison in areas where wildlife may be present.  

I think if the public really understood the danger's of rat poison to wildlife they would think twice before using or letting their exterminator use poison bait. 

The Santa Monica Mountains sit next to Los Angeles very similar to the mountain ranges outside Tucson.   A big difference is that the National Park Service has an active program to evaluate the impact rat poison on wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains.

In just 2014 they found:

• 11 of 12 mountain lions tested positive for exposure and two died from rat poisoning.

• 93 of 105 bobcats tested positive for exposure and 70+ died from related secondary disease.

• 20 of 24 coyotes tested positive for exposure and 12 died from poisoning.

Unfortunately no one tracks wildlife poisonings in the Tucson area, but be assured the problem is no less severe. 

In general, Californians tends to be more environmentally aware and educated than other areas of the country. In part because the topic is in the news. Some excerpts from two recent California articles:

The Malibu Times, 10/1/2015
Rodenticide Poisons Mountain Lion at Point Mugu

The body of P-34 was found by a runner on Sept. 30
 at Point Mugu State Park. A necropsy proved
 the mountain lion was killed by rodenticides.

"A young mountain lion was killed in late September after ingesting rat poison that came from a poison bait box, according to authorities with the National Park Service (NPS) at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA)."

"P-34 is the latest of several larger mammals found dead as a result of rodenticide poisoning in the SMMNRA, according to the NPS, with two other mountain lions and many coyotes falling prey to what Poison Free Malibu calls the “chain of death.”
"As smaller rodents ingest poison and die, they are sometimes eaten by larger animals, such as coyotes and mountain lions, who then fall prey to the anticoagulant rodenticides found in the smaller rodents and birds."
“I think we need to work collectively to raise awareness so that people understand that when they utilize rat boxes, they understand what happens to the environment around them — to the habitat surrounding it,” another Poison Free Malibu founder, Wendi Dunn, said. “We are not separate from our environment — we are not ever. We are all part of the system.”

The MoonPark Acorn, 12/4/2015 
The Dangers of Rat Poison

SAD SIGHT—This coyote, found ill from being exposed to rat poison, is being cared for by the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas. To deter pests, wildlife experts suggest removing from outdoor trash and food that could attract rodents and plugging holes in houses. 
Courtesy of California Wildlife Center
SAD SIGHT—This coyote, found ill from being 
exposed to rat poison, is being cared 
for by the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas. 

"When people use anticoagulants to get rid of unwanted critters, they don’t just kill rats and mice—they also imperil wildlife, pets and children."

"Nearly all mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, hawks, owls and other wild animals in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills are exposed to rodenticides."

“Animals suffer; they bleed internally and lose all their blood,” said Duane Tom, director of animal care at the California Wildlife Center."
"When carnivores feed on rodents that have ingested anticoagulants, they accumulate the poison in their system."
"Many animals brought to the wildlife clinic have bruising and excessive bleeding due to repeated exposure to the poisons."
“Without doubt, anticoagulants are a big concern for wildlife and also for pets. The poison is also a problem for young children. It’s not a benign thing that people just put out to get rid of mice and rats. As you poison these animals, they don’t die right away,” said Tom, who has worked at the wildlife rehabilitation facility south of Calabasas for nine years.
"Rodenticides are indiscriminate killers, and the bait boxes that contain them attract all kinds of animals.
Most coyotes, bobcats and cougars that die from mange—a skin disease caused by parasitic mites—also test positive for rodenticide exposure.

Wild predators are needed to regulate the rodent population.

If poisoning mice and rats also kills off large cats and canines, the rodent population will proliferate.

"A breeding pair of rats can result in about 15,000 rats in a year, and a pair of mice can produce up to 1 million offspring in just over a year," Mahan said in a Wildlife Center newsletter.

“Anticoagulants will worsen rodent infestation. As you poison the rodents, you’re also killing their predators. If you kill off the predators, then rodents can multiply uncontained,” Tom said.

Want to help?
Use the link below to print and share this excellent flyer produced by the National Park Service on the dangers of rat poison to local wildlife. 

Personally I think it would be great if every retail store that sold poison bait had to post a similar flyer next to the rat poison shelf. Also all exterminators should provide customers a copy before using poison bait outdoors. If consumers were aware of the true risks of poison bait to wildlife, I believe most would choose alternative methods to deal with rats.