Saturday, October 07, 2006

When squirrels attack

Here's some breaking news...parks contain wild viscous animals. Believe it or not, this is news to some people. Visitors to urban parks see the cute and cuddly chipmunks and squirrels and think they can treat them like they are a neighbors pet. "Let's give the cute little squirrel a treat." Then they are shocked when the "cute little animal" bites someone. Once this happens, the local media jumps in a gives a sensational report like this:

Squirrels Go On Attack At South Bay Park (NBC11.com)

An aggressive squirrel pounced on a 4-year-old boy in an attack last week in Cuesta Park in Mountain View, Calif. The attack happened as the boy's mother unwrapped a muffin during a
picnic. The boy had to get rabies shots after the attack. He is still getting the shots. The attack is not the first one reported at the park. Mountain View Community Services Director David Muela said that as many as six people have been bitten or scratched by squirrels since May, and
that the attacks have become more ferocious in the last month. Park Rangers spent Saturday patrolling the park. (RG: Unit 24 I have spotted a bogie at 3 o'clock in a large oak tree. He's heading your way and looks like he means business). The city is trying to make sure people don't bring food into the children's play area at the park.

"I think it's our fault, because we made them aggressive," Carmen Perez of Palo Alto said. "Now it's dangerous and we have to do something."

In response to attacks, the city of Mountain View has announced it plans to start trapping and killing the aggressive tree squirrels. Over the next three weeks, park workers will set tube-like traps in the trees of Cuesta Park and euthanize captured squirrels "in a humane way," said David Muela, Mountain View's community services director.

Ironically, efforts to curb the behavior may have exacerbated the squirrels' aggressive tendencies, Muela said. This summer, the city installed new trash receptacles featuring metal
tops with a latch that makes it nearly impossible for an animal to rummage through the can in search of food. Increased park ranger patrols and flier distributions cautioning against feeding the animals might have further cut the squirrels' food supply, prompting them to act more assertively in their quest for food.

NBC11 and NBC11.com first ran this story Wednesday and it stirred up a lot of outrage with
viewers. Many have e-mailed, saying that euthanizing the squirrels is the wrong
response. One viewer wrote, "I come to the parks to watch the wild animals, not
the humans. I will no longer visit your parks knowing that any of them have become a killing ground for natural wildlife." (RG: This guy obviously doesn't get Animal Planet in his cable package). Wildlife advocates also oppose the unusual measure of killing the animals and said it
won't solve the problem. "The squirrels will be back," South Bay wildlife rehabilitator Norma
Campbell said. "For every one you take out, two more will come in. It could be a never-ending project that isn't going to accomplish anything." (RG: Squirrels are well organized and tired of being oppressed).

Officials said the increasingly brazen behavior stems from years of being fed by park visitors.
The state Department of Fish and Game recommends against relocating habituated squirrels, he said, because their fear of humans has diminished and the problem is likely to remain. Instead, the department recommends the animals be put to sleep, Muela said. Muela said the city couldn't afford to wait and see if the squirrels' aggressive behavior goes away eventually, because of the threat posed to public health and safety. Emphasizing his concern for the welfare of park visitors, Muela said, "We will need the public's cooperation on this, because as long as they continue to feed the squirrels it will exacerbate the problem."

Although the squirrels' behavior has led some to fear the animals might be rabid, Muela said that is highly unlikely because incidents of rabid tree squirrels are extremely rare.
How many people would consider hand feeding a wild Norway rat? Probably not many, yet there is little difference between the rat and the squirrel. Both are members of the order Rodentia, but squirrels belong to the family Sciuridae while rats belong to the family Muroidea. The primary difference between these two branches of the rodent family tree is that Muroidea lacks the cuteness gene found in Sciuridae members such as squirrels, chipmunks, and to a lesser degree marmots. Presence of this cuteness gene can often spare an animal from becoming the target of pest control programs by causing an autonomic human response. This response, know as the "Awe, look at the cute little animal" response has even been documented in non-PETA members of the human population.

A park infested with toddler biting rats would cause a public uproar for their immediate eradication, but when it involves a cute animal it spawns demands for the ethical treatment. When will we admit our hypocrisy and just fix the problem (i.e. short term - reduce the problem squirrel population; long term - stop treating wild animals like pets).

Don't get me wrong. I love animals, especially the cute and cuddly ones. The problem is when idiots habitualize wild animals to human contact. Ultimately this will lead to a conflict with humans and when that happens, the animal will almost always lose.

BTW - In no way do I mean to insinuate that Bob Ross was an idiot.

4 comments:

Trout Underground said...

I think the problem isn't that squirrels have become habituated by human feeding.

It's that we're not training the humans to *not* feed the rodents by letting the squirrels bite, maim and assualt anyone who does.

Sure, it's a radical's simple solution to a complex problem, but I think we'd have a lot less bear problems in Yosemite if we'd train the bears to attack those who offered them food.

More than simplay a step in the correct direction, this solution helps eliminate stupidity from the gene pool and would go a long, long ways towards reducing crowding problems in our national parks...

(not to mention far fewer crowds).

winehiker said...

From the "This Is A Rant, Not A Philosophy" department: Perhaps we should habituate our society toward euthanizing the morons who feed wild animals. If we can't do that, then who are the real squirrels?

Carly said...

Hello Ranger Gord :)

Thanks for coming by my blog, and leaving a link to this post. While true that there was indeed an attack in Sunnyvale, California, the area I wrote about was a good distance from there, down the Central Coast. It wasn't the same situation. And yes, it's true that there are posted signs warning visitors to not feed the wildlife. The thing is, and I will hold firm to this, respect needs to be shown for our wildlife.

This means not only NOT feeding them, but also to not assaulting them out of ignorance. I saw the squirrel approach the folks I wrote about... it was not in a threatening manner. As with hummans, we need to not punish one, for the actions of another. Just my opinion, I could be wrong. :)

Always, Carly :)

Scott said...

I think we might have found the real reason for all these squirrel attacks: they're on crack! At least, according to The Sun.