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We Prey in Suburbia

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avatar We Prey in Suburbia
June 20, 2009 12:27AM

Bears and Other Predators Invade U.S. Neighborhoods
As once-threatened animal populations including black bears, mountain lions and alligators rebound and people move into former wildlands, predators are showing up precisely where they don't belong: in backyards. And the wildlife isn't as afraid of us as we might think. Welcome to the food chain.


When summer rolls around, our backyards turn into a smorgasbord for wildlife. Uncleaned grills, bird feeders, dog food left on the porch and garbage stuffed into unsecured bins can lure creatures to our doorsteps. And once an animal has an easily obtained meal, it keeps coming back. The process through which animals learn that people are a source of high-quality calories is called food conditioning. “Sometimes wild animals get accustomed to a certain source of food, and they forgo other sources,” Bekoff says. “Why hunt for a rabbit when you can get a freebie handout at Joe’s?”

This was just the kind of situation Denise Haldeman walked right into in May 2008. She went outside after dark to take down the bird feeders in the backyard of her Barbours, Pa., home. Her dog, Panda, tore into the darkness, but Haldeman thought the 12-year-old Lab mix was chasing another dog that sometimes ran loose in the neighborhood.

Then she saw the black bear. It was standing on its hind legs, just a few feet away, clicking its teeth. As Haldeman turned to flee, the bear struck her from behind, knocking her facedown on the patio. “The bear was standing on me, biting my head,” Haldeman later told reporters.

The bear left without attacking her further. Haldeman was treated for wounds on her head, face, arms and legs. Panda was not so lucky; the dog, which had also encountered the bear, died from its injuries. Authorities later determined that Haldeman had unwittingly come between a sow and her cubs; 10 days later the bears, which had previously been seen around the neighborhood, were trapped in Haldeman’s yard and relocated about 150 miles away.

Black bears, usually considered far more docile than grizzlies, will typically flee when confronted by a human, says Stephen Herrero, author of Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. He has been studying bear attacks for 42 years. Food-conditioned black bears can become aggressive—a learned behavior from the wild, where they must defend their food from other bears.

Most attacks are defensive—when people are in a bear’s space, it feels uncomfortable and may attack the perceived threat. But some attacks are predatory. “There’s the odd black bear—and this is where the fatalities come from—that just decides, Well, I’ve been eating deer all my life, I think I’ll try out that two-legged thing,” Herrero says. “That pattern of behavior is very recognizable. The bear walks around, sizes things up, and when it decides to go for it, it goes for it.” But most predatory attacks take place in the wilderness. Herrero says that backyard predatory behavior is peculiar, and biologists haven’t yet figured out why it’s happening.

Of course, PM has something to build:

Ways to Predator Proof Your Yard

The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.
-- Carl Sagan

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/20/2009 12:40AM by Frank Furter.
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