The Editor’s Desk: Bandit at the back door

Wildlife in the back yard can be fun, until nature turns nasty

For the last few months we’ve had an almost nightly visitor: a black-and-white cat who appears on our back deck and peers in through the patio doors, somewhat to the bemusement of our two indoor cats, who are often on the inside looking out when Jess makes his appearance.

I call him Jess — the name of a black-and-white cat in the popular British kids’ show Postman Pat — because I have no idea what his actual name is. He is nothing if not regular in his habits, and usually shows up around 9:30 p.m. for a bit of fuss. Thus it was that when I walked into our kitchen the other night at about 9:30 and saw a shape outside the patio door, I assumed it was Jess, until I took a closer look.

Imagine my surprise when, instead of seeing a very friendly black-and-white cat, I saw a very large raccoon, his nose pressed up against the glass. I blinked, then moved closer to make sure I wasn’t mistaken. No: it was definitely a raccoon, the first one I’ve ever seen on the Mesa in Ashcroft.

After a few moments he (she? it?) turned and meandered off the deck, disappearing into the darkness of the back yard. I made a mental note to remind our cats about why we keep them indoors, and hoped that Jess was okay, and was reassured when he turned up as usual less than a minute later.

It’s far from the first time we’ve had wildlife getting up close and personal in our yard or on our street. Over the years we’ve had coyotes, deer, and bears in our yard, and a cougar in the cul de sac at the end of our road. On one memorable occasion, not long after we moved to Ashcroft from Great Britain, my husband called me to point out two animals that were wandering along the base of the hills behind our house.

“Those are funny looking horses,” he said. “That’s because they’re moose,” I replied, once I’d got a look at them. (In fairness to my husband, he’s British, and while he had of course heard of moose, those animals are more of an abstract concept than a reality in the UK, and not normally encountered outside the occasional David Attenborough wildlife program.)

All of this wildlife is undoubtedly entertaining in its way, and part of the charm of rural living. However, not everyone is enamoured of having these critters in their yard, and there’s the very real prospect of some of them doing considerable harm. Raccoons, with their little bandit faces, look cute as all get-out, but as with koala bears — another creature that looks like something you just want to cuddle — they can be vicious (hence my concern for Jess). Coyotes, deer, and cougars can be dangerous — if not fatal — to pets, children, and adults, depending on the animal and the circumstances.

Moose — despite looking like a horse as drawn by a three-year-old — will attack if provoked, as will bears, which is a real concern as we get nearer to the time when they come out of hibernation looking for food. Unfortunately, and despite repeated warnings, many will encounter a tempting all-you-can-eat buffet in our neighbourhoods, in the shape of garbage cans put out too early, bird feeders in back yards, dog food left out so Fido won’t go hungry, and many other tasty treats.

Last year the number of bears that had to be killed in B.C. by conservation officers increased by 40 per cent over 2018. More than 500 bears were killed in the first 10 months of 2019, with six in West Kelowna alone over the Thanksgiving weekend. Many of these incidents could have been prevented if humans had taken a bit more care.

Wildlife on our doorstep can be fun, but it can come with a price: for us, our children and pets, and the animals themselves. Cute as he undoubtedly looks, I’ll do my best to discourage Rocky Raccoon from making our yard part of his regular routine. I’m sure Jess will thank me for that.

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