Wildlife Carers see an increasing number of native animals and birds in care with injuries inflicted by cats and dogs. These animals are expensive and disappointing to care for as few survive to be successfully rehabilitated. Many of these deaths are the result of attacks by domestic pets. There is an urgent need to rethink the way we manage our household pets to reduce this problem.
Pets have received a lot of publicity lately for improving the health of their owners. While pets can add enjoyment to life, the family should consider all aspects before choosing to become pet owners as there are serious responsibilities involved. Do not adopt an animal unless you are prepared to take full responsibility for it. That is have it desexed, vaccinated and wormed as well as providing adequate food and a safe place to live.
Housing & Care Of pets.
It is not safe to have dogs or cats free to hunt & scavenge. Roaming dogs can pick up the hydatid tape- worm and cats will contract toxoplasmosis, both diseases can be transmitted to humans with tragic results. House- holders must make sure that their cats & dogs are securely housed and managed so that they do not stray into farmland or remnant bushland. Desexing often reduces the desire to roam away from home and is particularly effective for males.
Remember that feeding a stray animal not only puts your health at risk, it increases the number of native animals and birds killed. Sexually active stray animals come into contact with many others and have to eat carrion to survive, so they are more likely to carry diseases than desexed well fed pets that live in good homes. Recent research shows feeding stray cats greatly increases their ability to breed successfully.
First Aid for Wildlife.
Many native birds & animals are killed or injured each year. Householders can help by checking out those that look injured or out of place. Caution must be exercised as a frightened animal will bite & scratch and injured birds may inflict deep wounds with beaks or claws. A thick towel is often the best way to protect yourself & the patient from injury.
Minor injuries such as stunning after flying into windows.Place the patient on a towel in a card board box which has had air holes punched into the side walls. Warmth can be safely provided by filling a plastic bottle with hot water and placing this in one corner. Close the top securely and place the box in a quiet place for an hour. The bird should have recovered in this time. Check that the wings are not broken and clean any minor wounds with warm salty water (1/2 teaspoon per litre) before allowing the bird to fly away. Major injuries such as fractures or puncture wounds from cats & dogs need prompt professional treatment. As soon as the victim is safely secured contact your local Wildlife Carer or take it to the nearest vet for treatment. It is illegal to keep native marsupials and birds without a special permit from the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Local Action is Needed.
As cities grow larger householders have a critical role in preserving nature. An urban landscape where the parks, water ways and air are clean, and support an abundance of plants, frogs, butterflies, native birds and animals is a healthy home for families. A great place to start is to make your garden a poison & predator free zone.
Food & Shelter.
Nectar & seed producing native plants provide the best food for birds and small marsupials. A dense planting of New England native shrubs around a com- post bin provides a wonderful place for small birds like wrens and willy wagtails to nest. Constructing nesting boxes and feeding platforms will also make the garden a friendly living space. Foods that contain preservatives, yeast or lactose are to be avoided as they can cause chronic health problems in native fauna. Rolled oats or a wild bird mix are safe. The feeding platform is best suspended high up in a tree so that it does not become a cat dining table.
Local nurseries stock compact tough native plants that perform well in the garden providing shade & shelter with a minimum of water. Used alone for a no fuss garden or as a backdrop for some of the cold climate exotics, native plants suit a busy lifestyle. Householders can help wildlife by removing poisonous exotic plants like the deadly Rhus tree, and replacing them with a selection of nectar & seed bearing native plants. Poison- ous plants pass their toxins into insects feeding on them. Birds & marsupials have become used to the toxins in native plants but have no defenses against those in exotic plants.
Avoid problem plants.
A number of the tough exotic plants also perform well as shade & shelter belts but turn into feral plants when they escape from the garden. Cotoneaster, English elms, Lombardy poplars, Privet, Oleander, Pines, Pyracantha, Rhus trees and Willows have spread from Armidale along country roads. Many of these plants shed masses of wind borne pollen, others are poisonous to livestock, wild life & children or have roots that wreck house foundations, paving, roads and drains.
Magpies can be a hazard in spring when they nest and defend the nest territory. People who have a magpie nesting in their garden can make a notice to warn pedes- trians & cyclists or ask NTWC for a temporary sign. Hats & umbrellas or a leafy branch give useful protection when the whereabouts of the bird are known. A simple shade cloth shelter erected over the sand pit, wading pool and swing will give young children protection from magpies & the sun. If a magpie attacks unexpectedly bending the elbow and placing the arm over the fore- head will protect eyes effectively. Parents can teach their children this technique. Possums are a problem if they invade roof space or become stuck in chimneys. The only permanent solution is to fit pieces of 25 mm square weld-mesh over all entry points. The last hole is sealed up after dark when the possum is outside (this can be checked using a sensor light which responds to movement). Householders can make friends with their resident possum by building it a sleeping box and fixing this high up in a big tree. Leav- ing out offerings of fruit & vegetables helps the garden. As a last resort problem possums can be trapped and relocated under license from the National Parks & Wildlife Service. Recent research suggests that many of these relocated animals die because they do not find fox free territory with a suitable food source. Co-existing with the resident possum is encouraged.
Bats, Echidnas, Lizards & Snakes
The tiny bats native to our area eat their weight in insects every night, but should not be handled due to the problem with lyssavirus. The termite eating Echidna is a biological version of the flick man, unfortunately they are not compatible with dogs. Lizards provide a free clean up service for garden pests and are not venomous, only biting if severely provoked. The persistent presence of a snake indicates that rats & mice are present in that area. Killing the snake does not solve the problem as another one will soon move in. Removing harbor and controlling rodent populations will encourage the snake to move on because it no longer has a food source.
Pests & Poisons
Technology has given us a powerful arsenal which can be damaging to both our health and the environment if used carelessly. Modern poisons are also very expensive. Householders may wish to plan the house and garden so that the need to use such products is reduced. An informal garden which allows companion planting instead of continual use of weedicides and pesticides is a good start. Having an environment friendly house & garden where pesticides & poisons are only used where absolutely necessary, applied correctly and storedsafelyisgoodforeveryone.
Foxes are moving into urban areas. As foxes carry hydatids it is important that householders keep out door barbecues clean and covered. Rubbish should be stored in a secure bin. Rats & Mice can be controlled by reducing places to live, feed & breed. Rodent baits should always be laid in a secure pet proof bait station to reduce the risk of accidental poisoning. Racumin is less likely to kill owls & hawks than other types of anti-coagulant baits and is very effective rodent bait.
Snail baits kill many pets each year. Bait poisoned snails also kill the blue tongue lizards and birds that normally control snail populations. An extensive baiting program often means that snail populations actually rise. Alternatives to chemical snail bait include the new pet proof product made from mustard meal. A partly buried jar of flat beer is suitable for small areas, the safe happy end for every one.