Why Does Conflict Occur?
- Habitat Loss – Habitat loss leads to less space for wildlife. As humans expand their presence, wildlife habitats decrease, causing increased Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC). In fact, human activities ultimately cause most HWC. Fortunately, there are some causes for conflict listed below that can be prevented or mitigated with very simple means and education (since most times humans are not aware that they are causing the conflict by creating an attraction for wildlife).
- Accidental Feeding- A very common cause of HWC is “accidental/indirect feeding” because of improper garbage management. Garbage, dog food or debris provides a food source which attracts wildlife.
- Purposeful/Direct Feeding – Another common cause for HWC is “purposeful/direct feeding” of wildlife. Feeding is often used to create a tourist attraction. Some people feed wildlife and may be unaware of dangers this presents to their safety, health and property. Regular wildlife feeding leads to habituation, or animals losing their fear of humans, and receiving food from humans. A habituated predator can be dangerous, sometimes even deadly. Wildlife feeding is illegal and education is key to changing this behavior in tour guides and the general public.
- Available Access – Another common cause for HWC is “available access” to nesting spaces in homes and other structures. For example: Holes in walls, broken/missing attic ventilation screens, and other construction gaps give easy access to birds, bats, rats and other mammals.
Avoiding Wildlife Conflict in Belize
- Do not feed wild animals. Feeding encourages wild animals to become dependent on foods that are not part of their normal diet. Feeding causes wild animals to lose their fear of humans, and to congregate in unnaturally large groups. This increases the chance of disease transmission within wildlife populations and transmission to people.
- Secure your garbage. Use sturdy trash cans with secure lids, thoroughly rinse bottles and cans for recycling, and put food scraps in closed bins instead of open compost piles.
- Do not feed pets outside. If you must put pet food outside, do so only during the day. Clean up leftovers afterward, taking food and water dishes in overnight.
- Harvest ripe fruits and vegetables and clean up fallen fruit. Enclose your garden(s) with barriers and use row covers or bird netting to protect vulnerable crops.
- Some animals prey on livestock and small companion animals. Keep pets inside and livestock in a securely enclosed and covered shelter, especially at night.
- Animals can squeeze into small spaces, so seal holes and cracks in and around your house foundation. Check under the eaves, along roof lines, and in the attic for openings. Replace loose shingles on roof tops. Make sure screen netting is not torn and sealed properly.
- Prune branches that hang over your house. To prevent animals from climbing trees to access windows and roofs, remove lower branches and wrap metal cylinders/sheeting around trunk at least three feet from the ground. Remove brush piles from your yard and store wood off the ground.
- If you have a pet door, keep it closed at night.
Solving Existing Problems
If wild animals have already taken up residence in or under your house, wait until they leave and then exclude them. Assume there are babies present, and be careful not to separate parents from their young. If possible, wait until the family is old enough before you attempt to to move them out.
If you cannot wait for animals to leave on their own, make their surroundings less inviting. Turn on a bright, flashing light and leave a radio talk show playing near their den site. Many animals are sensitive to smell, so deter them with mothballs or ammonia-soaked rags. Deploy as many deterrents as possible at the first sign of problems, but DO NOT USE THESE METHODS WHEN BABIES ARE PRESENT.
You can also exclude animals while they are outside. Nocturnal animals such as bats should be closed out while they are active at night, whereas squirrels, for example, can be excluded during the day. Set up a one-way door or stretch a piece of plastic across the entrance. Use extreme caution to avoid trapping infants inside as they will be unable to use the one-way door and their mothers cannot return for them. Only when you are certain that there are no animals; including babies, left inside, close the opening permanently.
Outdoors, use visual repellents such as aluminum pie plates, strips of metallic tape or flags. Olfactory deterrents that create scent barriers must be reapplied after rain. Another option is electric fencing, which delivers mild shocks to keep wildlife out of gardens and pastures.
Trapping and relocating wildlife does not solve human-wildlife conflicts and is, at-best, a short-term solution. Other animals will take their place unless the conditions that attracted the animals in the first place are corrected. Trapping also separates mothers from babies resulting in death of the young left behind.
Advice and information can be acquired from:
Belize Forest Department: (501) 802-2079
Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic: (501) 615-5159 / (501) 632-3257
Edited from “Living with Wildlife” by PAWS, WA.
Provided for your reference by: Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic