Drought: Wild Predators Frequenting Suburban Areas

The recent drought in some Western states, coupled with the aftermath of wildfires, has compounded the problem of wildlife visiting populated areas. Horse owners can initiate simple changes in equine and farm management to reduce the risk posed by these animals.

"Water sources are drying up and animals are coming down to populated areas to drink from pools and ornamental ponds," says Jeff Smith, DVM, president of the California Veterinary Medical Association. "People really don't understand how to deal with wild animals and often want to approach them. It may be obvious that a mountain lion or coyote is dangerous, but animals perceived as gentle (such as deer) can be dangerous too."

Smith said that people will sometimes attempt to chase a wild animal in order scare it off, but the animal will turn and become aggressive. He also noted that increasing urbanization has decreased many animals' natural fear of humans.

Kyle Orr, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Game, said mountain lions tend to be the biggest concern for horse owners.

"Mountain lion attacks on horses are still rare--only 5% of documented attacks have been on horses," Orr said.

But there are simple things horse owners can do to decrease even that small margin of risk.

"One half of the state of California is considered mountain lion habitat. And where there are deer there are mountain lions. So do not feed deer. Feeding (deer) attracts mountain lions and is illegal. Don't landscape your house with plants deer like to eat, and cut brush down to remove hiding places for mountain lions."

Protect vulnerable animals, such as goats, sheep, foals, or small horses by bringing them into a barn or sturdy enclosed building at night. Supervise pets or small animals while outside. Discourage wild animals by putting trash in sturdy, tightly closed trashcans and bringing pet food inside.

Although mountain lion attacks on humans are rare (only 14 documented attacks since 1890), never hike alone and never let young children play outside unattended. If you sight a large wild animal in a populated area, keep your distance and phone 911.

Orr said that although the drought might be the cause of more sightings, wild animals are always present. He advocated discouraging wild animals from seeing your home as a potential food source. "In other words, help keep wild animals wild," he said.

About the Author

Sharon Biggs Waller

Sharon Biggs Waller is a freelance writer for equine ­science and human interest publications. Her work has appeared in several publications and on several websites, and she is a classical dressage instructor.

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