The first clue that my space had been invaded was when I found the items once on a shelf now scattered all over the floor. I thought that was strange, picked up the items and checked the shelf for problems. When I walked into my office, I realized there was more to this story. Apparently I didn’t shut the door securely the night before, and a critter had leisurely pilfered my office.
When I looked at the top of my laptop, I realized what had transpired. Raccoon paw prints were all over the top of the laptop.
Now, I don’t know exactly what was going on, but I had just recently written a piece for Outdoor Alabama magazine on coon hunting. Maybe the masked bandit was just trying to check his Facebook page for any reaction to the story.
A couple of years before, I had a close encounter with another animal that gave me a great deal more pause. As you can guess, I have trouble shutting doors. My wife will tell you that also goes for dresser drawers and kitchen cabinets. Maybe I’ve got a phobia that I won’t get them open again. Who knows?
Anyway, I left the overhead door to my lawn mower shed open and a scary critter had taken up residence without my knowledge. I hopped on my lawn mower and reached for the ignition switch when none other than Pepe Le Pew strutted right in front of the lawn mower in all his black and white-striped glory.
Panic-stricken, I froze, not even daring a blink of the eye. Fortunately, Pepe kept moving and went to a hole he called home under a stack of pecan wood.
After getting my heart back into the 150 bpm range, I cranked the mower and threw it into reverse as quickly as possible. That night, I set my alarm clock for 2 a.m., when the skunk would be out foraging, and closed the overhead door. He decided to move on when he couldn’t easily get back into the shed, saving me from banishment from the house had I been sprayed.
Although my encounters with wild critters may be a bit humorous, these encounters are no laughing matter for most people, including the staff of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, who most residents think of first when they encounter nuisance animals.
“In recent years, nuisance animal complaints have been our No. 1 call to our district offices,” said Ray Metzler, WFF Assistant Chief. “Here in Montgomery, at our main offices, we’ve had an otter in downtown Montgomery between Riverwalk Stadium and the Civic Center. It just wandered up from the river, looking for food.
“We get coyote calls. We get bat calls. We had one bat roosted on a wall in downtown Montgomery, and the caller said it had been there for hours and hours. Well, that’s what bats do. The problem was that the public didn’t think that was a suitable place to roost. They wanted us to do something about it. But it’s a bat. It’ll roost there until nightfall and then fly off in search of insects.”
While deer can at times be nuisance animals – just ask the folks trying to grow shrubs at homes that surround Oak Mountain State Park – the majority of the calls concern smaller animals like raccoons, opossums and squirrels, Metzler said.
“We get calls about coons and possums coming up and eating dog food or getting in the garbage or squirrels in the attic,” he said. “In the rural areas, the nuisance animals are going to be more like deer and wild hogs. Coons and possums in the country don’t cause as many issues. People in the country generally know how to handle those situations.”
A landowner or tenant can remove one squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, opossum, beaver or skunk that is causing damage any time of the year without a permit. A farmer or landowner experiencing damage to crops or other plants can obtain a permit to remove the animals. Of course, large animals like alligators and black bears require professional removal.
“In urban areas, people are reluctant to address the issues on their own,” Metzler said. “But they are allowed to remove one nuisance animal per incident. A lot of people are not aware of that ability, that they can actually take care of that situation themselves.”
Although WFF will direct people with nuisance animals to an animal control specialist, the Division does not have the manpower to cover nuisance animal calls.
“There are specific animal control companies that have the proper permits and can take care of the problem,” Metzler said. “Our agency is not tasked with removing nuisance animals.”
One of those animal control companies is Alabama Wildlife Removal, where Phillip Padgett has been taking care of problem critters for 15 years. Some of his stories would give mostpeople the heebie-jeebies.
“We’ve had a whole nest of snakes inside a couch that people had been sleeping on,” Padgett said. “I’ve been in houses with hundreds of wood rats. I’ve gone into people’s houses, opened up the cabinets and there’d be a raccoon sitting there.
“The biggest thing we’ve got right now in Alabama is coyotes. We get calls from people telling us they have a wolf in their backyard. We tell them, ‘No, ma’am, you don’t have a wolf. That’s probably a coyote.’ Coyotes have become a huge problem that’s getting worse every day.”
Calls concerning honeybees building hives in occupied homes were almost a daily occurrence last spring, and Padgett expects that to continue. Many of the calls from north Alabama deal with skunks.
“If you don’t startle a skunk, most of the time they’ll go on off,” he said. “If you chase one, you may get sprayed, and that’s bad. You’ll smell that way for a while.
“We’ve had a lot of calls about bats, too. We went to a house not long ago to take care of the bats. They didn’t know how long they had had them. When we got there, we removed a couple of hundred bats and I could still hear them. I put my ear up to the wall, and the wall was full of bats. I’m on the way to Gulf Shores right now to get the bats out of the walls of a house.”
Padgett said homeowners need to be aware that the removal of certain animals, some of which may be endangered, requires a licensed control agent.
“A lot of people try to do what we do, but some of them don’t have the licenses and permits to do it,” he said. “There are federal and state regulations that deal with certain animals, especially bats. We carry all the licenses and permits required to take care of these animals.
“And the main thing is that once these animals are removed, you’ve got to make sure they can’t get back in or we’ll be right back out there.”
Padgett predicts the nuisance animal that soon will become the most prominent, not to mention damaging to wildlife habitat and agricultural property, is the feral hog.
“The biggest problem we’re getting ready to have is wild hogs,” he said. “Hunters can’t kill them fast enough. They’re going to have to hire somebody to do it the right way. We’re going to have to start looking at that problem right away. If not, we’re going to be completely overrun with them.”
Images courtesy U.S Fish and Wildlife Service