Photo: R. Kitchen
Picture a beautiful day with sparking sun, cloudless sky and a warm breeze — perfect for a walk in a nearby park. You slip outside and breathe in the fresh air, lightly perfumed from neighbouring gardens. The only sounds are the crunch of gravel beneath your feet and the song of local birds in the treetops. You slowly meander your way through the park when suddenly you see something moving just off the path. At first you think it’s a small cat, but upon closer examination you realize it’s not. You stop and watch mutely as the critter wanders out onto the path. It’s a muskrat! You remain still and silent as the little mammal creeps over the walkway and into the surrounding foliage. After a moment or two, you continue on your stroll, smiling to yourself and watching for any other signs of animal life.
Animal encounters happen every day. With the expansion of cities, human and animal habitats are continuously overlapping. And while some stories don’t end happily — either for the animal, the human or both — most meetings are merely harmless but exciting glimpses from our world into theirs.
Angela Lantain from Sault Ste. Marie recalls her animal encounter, “I happened to glance out the window of the front door and I saw this bulky, dark mass of fur ambling down the walk. At first, I thought it was a drenched cat, but it had a strange waddling gait and it was too big. Then I noticed the tail dragging behind it and thought it might be a lost muskrat, until the animal got into clear view and I could see the tail better. It was the flat tail of a beaver! A beaver in the middle of Sault Ste. Marie, miles away from a river of any description! I still have no idea what that beaver was doing in a city.”
This harmless yet memorable experience is typical of most encounters between people and their wild neighbours. However, there are a couple of rules to keep in mind should you chance upon an animal, the most important of which is keep your distance. By staying away, not only do you allow the animal to continue on with its task, but also you keep the animal and yourself safe from harm and stress. Never try to move in closer to take a picture, as you may startle the animal. Keep quiet and still, and if the creature runs away, allow it to go don’t follow it.
Another rule is never feed a wild animal. You will only make it dependent on humans for food, which is never good. Animals who depend on humans to feed them often lose their ability to forage or hunt, and they pass this dependency onto their young. Also, many of the foods people eat lack the nutritional value animals require. Some human food is even poisonous to wild animals. You wouldn’t feed your pet something you knew was harmful, and wildlife should be given the same respect.
When we appreciate nature, we can expect the same in return. Animals keep to themselves unless provoked. Should you run into a wild animal in your neighbourhood, just remember to keep your distance, be still, and don’t try to feed it. And the next time you go for a walk, keep your eyes peeled for any signs of wildlife — after all, it’s all around us.
Thanks to Angela Lantain for writing in to Wildlife Update about animal encounters.