Couple educate Phoenix residents about desert critters

Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2002

MESA, Ariz. (AP) -- On a recent Friday, Jeff Almond got a bobcat call. The animal was in a north Scottsdale yard. On top of a saguaro.

''She (the homeowner) was worried about it because it was 90 degrees out,'' Almond said. With his wife, Rachel, Almond responded. Armed with cameras, the operators of J&R Reptile Rescue/Rehabilitation arrived at the residence and proceeded to photograph the cactus-bound cat.

Calming the homeowner, they gave her (the homeowner) the best advice they could do -- nothing. Sure enough, mama bobcat eventually came by to claim her offspring, the latter immediately hopping from its perch.

Desert Living Lesson No. 1: If you leave native wildlife alone, it will (more likely than not) leave you alone.

Desert Living Lesson No. 2: There are ways to deter wildlife other than killing or capturing it.

Desert Living Lesson No. 3: If you want a pet, go to the pound or a pet store. Native wildlife is not here for your amusement.

Jeff and Rachel Almond have been traveling to schools and groups since 1996, educating new arrivals as to the ways of the desert and its indigenous species.

Nancy Ryan has been working to organize the event. Her efforts are prompted by wildlife/human encounters as people push native species out of their habitat.

''I'd like to see the fear people have turned (into) knowledge,'' Ryan said -- knowledge that you don't have to shoot coyotes, javelina, rattlesnakes and Gila monsters to get rid of them. Knowledge that you shouldn't feed these species, either, as you could be ''loving them to death.''

''What feeding does is desensitize the animals to humans,'' Joe Yarchin said. A regional urban wildlife specialist for the Arizona Game and Fish De partment, Yarchin said feeding causes them to lose their fear of humans. And, from an animal's standpoint, food is what they come to expect when they see man.

''We had one community right in town that was going to the butcher shop everyday and getting bones and whatnot,'' Yarchin said. People set up lawn chairs and watched as the wildlife fed.

''I know for myself I want to leave the desert how it is, because this is why I moved here,'' Ryan said.

And it is why Almond left his native San Diego, the open spaces and abundant wildlife. But he has seen encroachment occurring to a point where he regularly relocates native species. ''In 2000, we did over 1,300 calls,'' Almond said. Last year, limiting themselves to native species in north Scottsdale, the couple responded to 600 calls.

''We can't stop the growth,'' Almond said. But he said people can change their response to displaced wildlife.

''There are a lot of animals that are unique to this part of the world, so the perception of human safety is sometimes askew,'' Yarchin said. He noted ''a good 85 to 90 percent of the calls we get are taken care of through education.''

''More often than not, people want wildlife around,'' Yarchin said. Those who don't should understand that aspects of their lifestyle -- where they feed their dog, plants they grow in their yard, an +outdoor+ water source -- could attract animals to their property.

''Removal isn't necessarily the answer. It's often just a short-term solution,'' Yarchin said.

Education, however, does wonders.


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