Born To Be Wild
It’s really not their fault!
Bless their hearts! We are the ones encroaching on their living spaces and we have the audacity to complain about them bothering us.
As society has grown, we have required more and more space. We have taken over the country sides, fields and forests. We have left the animals with nowhere else to go.
I live in “the country.” I love seeing the abundance of wildlife in my yard. I sit and watch them, take pictures of them, and occasionally throw a “past it’s best” apple into the woods for a treat for them but, I always respect that they are wild and should remain wild.
I do not feed them.
They were born wild. Their mothers taught them how to survive in the wild, where to find food and how to protect themselves.
If we feed them, we teach them that they don’t have to forage in the forest for food the way their mother’s taught them, that food will be provided. We begin to break down their instincts. They begin to trust us.
Remember, animals grow to adulthood much faster that humans do. If you are feeding them, over the course of a few years, you are feeding several generations of wild animals. As years go by the “wild” mother’s teach their young that they don’t have to look for food in the forests and fields, they just have to go to the feeder.
By providing for them, you are taming the animals and making them dependent on you. What happens to them when you are no longer around to feed them?
The worst thing you can do for them, in my opinion, is to teach the wild animals to trust humans. Not all humans are as kind as you are.
Now, let me get off my soap box…
The fault doesn’t completely lie with the people who are setting up feeders around their property or, teaching squirrels to eat out of their hands. Some of us do dumb, careless things that teach the animals bad behaviors. I am guilty as charged. I have had several close encounters of the wild kind that were unpleasant, and clearly my fault!
There was the incident involving the U.P. skunk.
Skunks are part of the weasel family. They are the size of a cat and can be striped, spotted or, have a swirl patterned fur. Some are brownish in color but, most skunks are known for their distinctive black and white stripes.
Skunks can be found in most of the United States, the Southern half of Canada and Northern Mexico.
Opportunistic, they live in hollowed trees and logs, dens abandoned by other animals, or under structures built by humans, such as porches, and outbuildings.
They eat plant and animal matter. Grubs, insects, bird eggs, small rodents, frogs, and berries are all staples of a skunk’s diet.
Skunks are nocturnal and solitary except for mating season and during cold winters when they may share a communal den for warmth.
They have poor eye site but, a strong sense of smell and very good hearing. When threatened, they will growl, shake their tails, fluff their fur, spit and even stomp. As a last resort, a skunk will spray a strong smelling liquid from their anal glands. They can spray up to 10 feet and the stench of the foul smelling liquid can be smelled for up to 1.5 miles.
Skunks are one of the primary carriers of rabies in the Midwest.
My close encounter of the skunk kind happened when I was camping in the U.P. with my grandkids, and forgot to take the trash to the trash bin before going to bed one night.
During the night, I got up to get a bottle of water from the bench of the picnic table. As I walked around the picnic table, I saw him, foraging through my trash bin, A SKUNK.!!!
He appeared to shudder and made a low grunting sound.
I didn’t want to go past him again so, I ran behind my car.
At that time, I had only owned my Chevy Traverse for 4 days. 4 Days!!!
I stood with my head against the driver’s door thinking, “please don’t spray, please don’t spray.” My new car, my tent, and all of my sleeping bags would be ruined if he sprayed.
I was barefoot, wearing sleep shorts and a tee shirt. I was shivering in the cool Upper Peninsula night air for what seemed like a long time.
I tried looking under the car but, couldn’t see anything. I crept to the front of the car and peeked around but, the picnic table was blocking my view. I couldn’t see if he was still there or not. I had to do something!
Eventually, I got up the nerve to cross the road and go behind my neighbor’s campsites. I walked until I was well past my own campsite before crossing back to my side of the road.
I tiptoed to the back of my tent, and slowly began to unzip the back door. At that moment in time, in the silence of the night, the sound of my door zipper sounded like it was being broadcast across the campground. I was sure the skunk would hear it and come running around the tent with the intention of spraying me.
I opened the door just enough to fit myself through. As quickly as I could, I squeezed sideways through the opening that I had made for myself. As I did, I stepped on a small flashlight that was laying on the tent floor, and fell, unceremoniously, into my tent butt first or, as my Nana would have put it, arse over tea kettle.
My left foot was still sticking out of the door but, I didn’t dare move. Remember, I had no idea if the skunk was still there or not.
When after a few moments, nothing happened, I quietly retrieved my foot, zipped my door shut and crawled back to bed. I never did get the water that I went out for. I did, however, learn a valuable lesson. Needless to say, I have not forgotten to take my trash to the trash bin, since that night.
The U.P. skunk encounter happened because people, like me, leave food or trash around their campsites. The animals have learned that if they wait until the campground occupants are sleeping they can come into camp and get free food.
I take full responsibility for the incident. Although I admit that I called him everything but a gentleman, the bottom line is, that my close encounter of the skunk kind was my fault.
Another wild animal often encountered near our homes and campsites are raccoons.
Raccoons like skunks nocturnal and are opportunistic eaters. They eat berries, fruits, rodents and eggs, as well as, crawfish, and frogs. They are not above eating garbage or roadkill.
Raccoons are usually the size of a small dog. They are brown with ringed tails and dark fur “masks” around their eyes, that makes them look like bandits.
They have 5 long dexterous fingers on each hand. They den in hollow trees, fallen logs or human-made structures.
Like bears, raccoons gorge in spring and summer to build body fat and sleep most of the winter but, are not true hibernators.
They can carry rabies, roundworm, and leptospirosis.
Raccoons can run up to 15 miles per hour and be vicious when approached by humans.
We were camping in New York when our close encounter of the raccoon kind happened.
I had taken precautions. I took the trash to the trash bins. I put the drink cooler and a case of water on top of my food cooler. My dry food bin had lock down handles. I thought I had done everything right. Imagine my surprise when I was awakened during the night by the sound of “someone” getting into our stuff.
When I shone the flashlight out of the tent window, there was a little raccoon diligently working on prying up the top of my dry food bin.
I knew not to harass a raccoon due to their aggressive nature.
I remember a night when leaving for work, a raccoon ran into my garage and took a position between me and my car. There was no way I was going to challenge that raccoon for possession of the garage. I went into the house and told my husband about the big raccoon holding my car hostage. He wasn’t keen about facing down a raccoon either. We decided that I would go out on the front porch to watch the raccoon while my husband opened the back door into the garage. Our hope was that the garage door opening at the back of the garage would startle the raccoon, and it would run away. Our plan worked, the raccoon ran out of the garage and I was able to get to work on time.
So, there I was in New York, with a little raccoon that was tearing into our food bin. THIS WAS WAR!!!
I tried to spook him by shining my flashlight on him but, he was unfazed. I opened my tent door and said, more sternly, “Get out of here you little (gotta keep this G rated)son of Mrs. to Raccoon!” He cocked his head to the side and gave me that “who me?” look. He was so small and so stinking cute I almost smiled but, remembering that this was a food war, I lunged at him with my flashlight and said “Get out of here you donkey’s hind end” To my relief, he opted not to tear my face off, and, instead, turned and ran off into the night. Maybe he was afraid I would start shouting “F” bombs, like, “friggin,” at him if he didn’t leave.
As I inspected my bin, I saw the claw marks along the side of the lid from his long fingers. He had not unlatched the handles. He had pried the side up until he could grab our bag of hotdog buns. He pulled the buns through the opening enough to get a few bites, and began the process again.
I locked the bin in the back of my car, and we went back to bed. Another lesson was learned. I knew that I would have to lock up the bin every night after that.
Our next camping trip was at Tawas Point State Park. My friend and I commented about the abundance of chipmunks running around the campsite. They seemed to be everywhere and had very little fear of us. They would approach us when we were sitting in camp. One actually ran over my foot.
Chipmunks are cute little rodents with black, white, and brown stripes. They are the smallest member of the squirrel family, measuring 4 – 7 inches long and weighing 1 – 5 ounces. They have cheek pouches that can stretch to three times the size of the chipmunks head. They use the cheek pouches to carry food, such as mushrooms, nuts, and berries to their winter dens which are long underground tunnels that they have burrowed.
In warm weather months, they generally nest in logs or bushes and will eat insects, baby birds, frogs, and bird eggs.
Chipmunks do not hibernate but, do sleep soundly for 2 -3 days, wake to eat, and go back to sleep.
Mild fall and winter weather has led to the unusually large populations of chipmunks, which is why we saw so many running around our campsites.
Chipmunks in campgrounds, eat dropped food and trash. Like other rodents, they will chew through anything, as I was about to find out.
On our first morning in camp, we decided to make a quick trip to the store for a few supplies. We were gone for an hour and a half. When we returned, one of our neighbors was standing in my campsite taking pictures. She said, laughing, “I’m sorry to trespass in your campsite but, I had to get a picture of that cute little chipmunk sitting on your bin, eating. “
My first thought was that one of the kids had left some food out but, when I looked, the Chipmunk had chewed a hole in the top of my bin, and had reached in and got our hotdog buns. What is this, Chipmunkzilla?
And, what is with these animals and hot dog buns?
Needless to say, if it weren’t for the fact that we had 8 kids with us, the air would have probably been blue for a while but, instead of cussing, I sanitized the bin, (Chipmunks can carry rabies, fleas, and other parasites), and moved it into the car, where it would stay for the remainder of our camping trip and all future camping trips.
It is really not their fault! The animals are just doing what animals do. They are surviving.
Our campgrounds have been built in their homes.
Experiencing the wildlife that inhabits our parks and campgrounds should be exciting and fun. How dare we complain when they eat the food that we make available or, get into the trash that we carelessly leave laying around.
To keep the close encounters of the wild kind pleasant, for ourselves, and for future campers, we have to remember, they were born to be wild and should remain wild.
Don’t feed them!
Keep your campsite clean. Secure your food. Deposit trash in the campground receptacles, and for crying out loud….
HIDE THE HOTDOG BUNS!!!
I hope you and your family are having a wonderful summer. May your close encounters of the wild kind be a joy!
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”
- A rabbit in my yard
- A huge turtle crossing the road by my house
- A muskrat in my yard
- A deer in my yard
- Raccoon damage to my bin lid
- Chipmunkzilla damage
- Chipmunk at Tawas Point State Park
- Me at Lake Superior in 2014