by Carol Dunn
HUERFANO- For a moment we need to be serious about the wild animals that make their home around Huerfano County. As development expands into the rural areas, it’s inevitable that people and wildlife will clash. Residents of La Veta tolerate the tame deer that eat the tender shoots off the blue spruce trees and devour spring’s tulips. Deer are quaint. The tourists love them. But there is less tolerance for the predators stalking our pets, our livestock and possibly ourselves.
Most every farmer around has lost chickens to raccoons, foxes and coyotes. It’s the price we pay to free range our animals. Although the coyotes have gotten more daring in the past month, sizing up the farm at mid-day, I have never shot at one because I’d probably shoot one of the neighbor’s cows while it’s crossing through my fence, causing the entire fence to collapse. Ugly.
Bears in the area are becoming intrepid, and several have made livestock kills. They have no compunction about upsetting garbage cans, rifling dumpsters, ripping doors off cars, and breaking into garages to get at trash. The gal at the trash collection company in Pueblo told me that the “bear proof” trash containers, in the same vein as child-proof medicine bottles, are sometimes most easily opened by bears. How to scare away a bear? Scream obscenities at it until it runs away. No, bears don’t understand obscenities, but they do understand that a person screaming means something bad is about to happen. Well that, and the dog barking. Bears have sensitive ears and do not like to be barked at.
A mountain lion (cougar) has reportedly been prowling the Navajo subdivision for months. Just a week ago, another (or perhaps the same) cougar was spotted crossing Valley Road, not far from Highway 160. While we can’t live in fear, these animals require a healthy dose of respect. I’ve read enough stories about cougar attacks to be slightly afraid. And I’ve seen our cat stalking enough gophers to know that I don’t want to wind up being a cat’s meal. I’ve seen the parts that get eaten. I’ve seen the parts that get regurgitated. I don’t want to be a component of either of those events.
If you are new to the area, do yourself a favor and never feed wild animals. Ok, birds are an exception unless you are related to Alfred Hitchcock. Raccoons can become incredible pests if they find your home to be a source of food, this includes cat food or dog food left out overnight. They have a keen memory. Raccoons are nimble-fingered and have been known to unlatch doors on chicken pens. They are fond of raiding apple trees around 3 am.
Besides poultry, foxes love to eat cats. When it comes to foxes, wily is an understatement. One moment the chicken is there. The next moment, the chicken is gone. Foxes also have a wide variety of calls, some of which will send chills down your spine.
Skunks and opossums will kill poultry and steal eggs. I don’t know anyone who thinks skunks are cute. Opossums, however, are so ugly they’re adorable. They also have a mouthful of teeth reminiscent of a crocodile. Steer clear. Coyotes are known to eat pet food, garbage, garden crops, livestock and pets. They’re not choosy because they are survivors. They, like bears, know when you are home and when you are not.
When you move to a rural location, be ready for the onslaught of wildlife. Some will visit often, some will visit rarely, and, with any luck, some you’ll never see.