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By Robbie Ruderman, Wildlife Coexistence Director, Animal Hero Kids*

The trapping of raccoons is ineffective and inhumane. Despite what trappers allege, the majority of trapped raccoons will not be relocated but rather killed, often in barbaric ways. Trapping makes orphans out of countless baby raccoons whose chances of survival are virtually eliminated without their mothers. Raccoons are also territorial; as a result, when one raccoon is trapped, another one will quickly move in. Therefore, it is pointless to trap raccoons. Trapping induces a never-ending and very costly cycle with dire consequences for the animals.

Fortunately, there is an intelligent, compassionate, and proven alternative to trapping called “humane eviction,” which utilizes several highly effective techniques, often in tandem, to powerfully persuade a raccoon to leave your property on his or her own free will. Following are the most common scenarios that would attract a raccoon onto your property, along with the corresponding humane eviction procedure.
1. A resident is deliberately feeding a raccoon:
If you or your neighbor is feeding raccoons, please stop. Feeding wildlife may seem harmless and even helpful to the animals, but it is actually extremely detrimental to their well-being. By feeding raccoons, you are conditioning these animals to lose their natural fear of humans to a point where they feel comfortable approaching humans for food. This puts the raccoon at high risk of being labeled a “nuisance” or “threat” or even “rabid” and then being trapped and killed for that “unusual” behavior. Feeding raccoons is also a misdemeanor violation.

2. A raccoon is getting into your garbage:
Do not put garbage bags outside for pick-up. Garbage bags must be placed inside a garbage container. Put the garbage container outside on the morning of collection day, not the night before. Strap down the lid with bungee cords.

3. A raccoon is eating dog or cat food left outdoors:
Remove dog or cat food immediately after feedings. Dogs and cats have an internal clock, so if you feed them at the exact same time(s) every day, the dog or cat will be ready and waiting (assuming he or she is hungry). As soon as the dog or cat has finished eating, remove the food bowl, preferably within 15 to 30 minutes. If you see a raccoon approaching the dog or cat food, “haze” (scare) the raccoon away by yelling, making loud noises (e.g., banging pots together), chasing him or her away, and/or spraying him or her with a garden hose or water gun.

4. A raccoon is eating out of your birdfeeder:
Squirrel-proof the birdfeeder and relocate it to a place that is inaccessible to the raccoon, or simply remove the birdfeeder.

5. A raccoon is frequenting your property or has decided to den in your attic or under your foundation, pool, deck, or elsewhere:
a. “Haze” (scare) the raccoon away by yelling, making loud noises (e.g., banging pots together), chasing him or her away, and/or spraying him or her with a garden hose or water gun.
b. Leave yard lights on (at night) and/or place a light inside the “den” (all day and night).
c. Place a clock radio outside and put it on talk radio. Choose a station that will provide inflammatory commentary in direct opposition to raccoon’s political leanings.
d. Soak rags in cider vinegar and place in empty coffee tins (punch holes in covers). Place tins at raccoon’s most frequented spots or scatter the tins throughout your property.
e. It is essential to evict a mother and her babies from the “den” before proceeding with “humane exclusion” procedures, which essentially involve sealing all entry points.

6. A raccoon is pooping in your pool:
It is relatively common for raccoons to poop in pools. A pool is essentially a giant bidet for raccoons and you can’t really blame them for wanting a clean tushy. If this is the case, buy the “Gator Guard by Bird-X,” a realistic, life-sized floating alligator head that users claim deters 9 out of 10 raccoons from pooping in your pool (or koi pond). You can buy it online for under $50. If a raccoon is pooping in your pool, it is worth every dollar.

*Feel free to contact me with wildlife questions or emergencies at 727-742-3601 or And please visit for more information on our educational programs.


How Much Do You Know About Chimpanzees?

Chimpanzees are one of our closest living relatives. Humans and chimpanzees share 95 to 98 % of the same DNA!

Chimpanzees make and use tools. They use more tools for more purposes than any other creature except human beings.

Chimpanzees develop lifelong family bonds, particularly between mother and child. Mothers and dependent young (up to age 7 or so)        are always together.

Chimpanzees can currently be found in 21 African countries. The greatest concentration of chimpanzees is in the rain forests of what used to be the equatorial forest belt.

Chimpanzees are omnivores, which means they eat fruits, nuts, seeds, blossoms. and leaves, as well as many kinds of insects and occasionally medium-sized animals.

Chimpanzees communicate in many ways, most notably through sounds and calls. They also communicate with each other through touch, facial expressions. and body language.

Chimpanzees are knuckle walkers, which means they walk on all fours using their knuckles for support when they are on the ground or even when they are up in trees.

Chimpanzee habitat is rapidly disappearing as human activity increases in the areas where chimpanzees live. Some of the causes for habitat loss include the conversion of land into agriculture, competition for natural resources such as firewood, commercial logging. and mining.

Chimpanzees can catch and be infected with a number of human diseases.

Chimpanzees are endangered. At the turn of the 20th century, they numbered between 1 and 2 million. Now there are estimated to be fewer than 300,000 chimpanzees remaining in the wild.


Fun Facts About Chimpanzees

  1. In captivity, chimpanzees can be taught human sign languages such as ASL (American Sign Language).
  2. Scientists have only recently been able to determine chimpanzee paternity through analyzing DNA in chimpanzee scat (also known as poop).
  3. Chimpanzees sometimes get bored and will make up games to amuse themselves.
  4. Chimpanzees communicate physically in ways similar to humans—by kissing, embracing, patting on the back, touching hands,        tickling, etc. They even laugh when they play
  5. Chimpanzees have opposable thumbs and big toes, which enable them to have a precision grip on just about anything.
  6.  Infant chimpanzees have a white tail tuft that disappears by early adulthood.
  7. As a rite of passage, almost every young chimpanzee gets lost from his or her mother at some point during exploration.
  8. Chimpanzees aren’t always graceful.
  9. Each night, chimpanzees make “nests” to sleep in and they never sleep in the same nest twice. The nests are made out of leaves, branches and other materials. Sometimes they even make a pillow out of the softest leaves.
  10. Some chimpanzees, like Golden and glitter, have Facebook pages. They are the oldest known set of Chimpanzee twins.
  11. On an average, chimpanzees sleep up to 9.7 hours each day.
  12. Chimpanzees cannot swim.
  13. Chimpanzees have no tail.

Announcement:  Click here to read about BIWF’S new adoptee–Pumpkin the Chimpanzee.

You Snake You

You Snake You

How to get along with snakes

Living in Florida, you have no doubt come across snakes in your travels. A fear of snakes, or Ophidiophobia, is common in many people. Interactions between people and venomous snakes in residential areas are much less common than those involving non-venomous species, and the risk of snakebite (venomous or non-venomous) is extremely small. The most common non-venomous snake in Florida is the black racer (see photo). You may be able to safely feed squirrels in a city park, but if you grab one of the squirrels, chances are it will bite and scratch you out of fear. Most people would not condemn squirrels for defending themselves by biting and scratching. Snakes defend themselves mostly by fleeing, but they may bite if captured and harmed. However, biting is not a sign that they are dangerous; it is just the only way that most snakes have to defend themselves.

There are only six species of venomous snakes in Florida, and only four of these species are found south of the Gainesville area. Attempting to harass, handle, or kill venomous snakes significantly increases your chances of being bitten, so it is best to adopt a “leave it be” attitude for all snakes. This also can help to prevent the needless killing of harmless snake species. If you are not 100% sure of the identity of a snake, just “leave it be.”

If you have snakes around your house

  • You should feel lucky as they are there for a reason.
  • All snakes are carnivorous and a benefit to humans. For example, rat snakes eat rodents such as mice and rats, and king snakes eat these rodents as well as other snakes, including venomous snakes.
  • If you find a snake in your backyard, swimming pool, or garage, do not try to kill it! Instead, try to identify it, and if it is non-venomous, appreciate it and leave it alone just as you do with songbirds in your garden. However, if you are uncertain or it is a venomous species- leave it alone.
  • Although we recommend leaving all snakes alone, catching most snakes around your house can be done safely by using a plastic garbage can and household broom (see below).
  • Species such as North American Racers and Coachwhips are fast moving and may be longer than the garbage can, but with a little patience these snakes can be guided into the garbage can.
  • If it is a small species like a Ringneck Snake or Crowned Snake, turn it loose in your garden where it can do its job eating little pest insects.

How to safely catch a snake

Lay a plastic garbage can on its side, stand safely back, and reach out with a long house broom to sweep the snake into the can. Slow but firm brush strokes are best. Flailing at it will only agitate the snake. A snake can strike up to 2/3 its body length.
Once the snake is inside, stand the garbage can up and put the lid on it. Make sure your fingers are safely behind the lip of the can. The snake cannot bite through the plastic and cannot climb the smooth sides. Snap the lid on the garbage can and tie or tape it securely in place. Neither you nor the snake is harmed. Secure in the garbage can, the snake can now be removed from the property. Most snakes can be safely removed this way – they should never be killed.

If you are bitten by a snake

Most people are bitten on the hands and arms when they are handling or trying to kill a snake. Therefore, if you are uncertain of its identity, do not try to catch or even kill a snake.
For a short time after a snake is killed, its reflexes may continue to work. Those reflexes typically cause the body to writhe slowly. Poking or prodding a freshly killed snake can cause a convulsive contraction and even a bite, so do not handle a newly killed venomous snake. If you are bitten, stay calm; remove any rings that could restrict circulation if tissues swell, and keep the bitten limb below the level of the heart.

The only acceptable treatment for venomous snakebite, involves the use of antivenin. So if you or someone else is bitten by a venomous snake, seek immediate attention at the nearest hospital or medical facility.


Information obtained from The University of Florida’s IFAS website at:

Ask Gator Guru

Ask Gator Guru

Question: So all alligators are found in America?

Answer: Almost. The only other alligators in the world are a small species found in China’s Yangtze River valley. However, it is severely endangered with only a few dozen left in the wild. In G.G.’s opinion, poachers would receive hopefully indescribable punishment.

Question: Hi Gator Guru. I see gators while I’m on the golf course. Are they dangerous?
Answer: Alligators aren’t usually aggressive unless provoked. Crocodiles on the other hand are very aggressive.

Question: When alligators are removed from our golf course, are they released into the Everglades?
Answer: No. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife, they are taken away and destroyed.

Question: How does one tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?
Answer: A side-by-side comparison of the gator’s u-shaped snout can easily be distinguished from the croc’s v-shaped snout. However, lacking the side-by-side opportunity the astute golfer will know that the croc’s bottom 4th tooth is visible when its mouth is shut. The alligator’s bottom 4th tooth is not. Thus by today’s social standards, the gator is much more attractive.

Question: If alligators aren’t usually aggressive, can I show off for my golfing buddies?
Answer: That depends upon your behavior and the gator’s mood. For example, the most recent alligator related fatality in Palm Beach County was a 27-year-old man who was showing off by harassing some young gators. The mother gator, who watches out for her kids for about a year after they hatch, asserted her natural protective instincts and attacked the predator. He lost.

Question: Couldn’t he have outrun her?
Answer: Only if he was faster than a horse. Think of alligators as large lizards. They aren’t distance runners, but they can sprint faster than a horse at takeoff.

Question: Could zig-zag running help? I’ve read that’s a good idea.
Answer: I’d personally prefer to get as much distance between the alligator and me as possible. But if you like the zig-zag idea, let us know how that works out for you.

Question: But what if my golf ball is near the gator?
Answer: Even the persnickety Rules of Golf provide relief, a free drop – no closer to the hole. (Gator Guru finds your questions tedious. Let’s move on to another reader.)

Question: Hi Gator Guru. How big are alligators?
Answer: A fully grown adult male is about 13 feet long and weighs about 790 pounds.Largest on record was over 19 feet long and tipped the scales at more than 1,000 pounds.

Question: How old are alligators?
Answer: This “living fossil” has been around for 65 million years. The gator seems to be an adaptable and efficient eating machine. (Like some people I know.)

Question: I meant their life span.
Answer: Oh, that’s typically 30 to 50 years. There is one old codger in a zoo in Serbia who is 78.

Question: What do alligators eat?
Answer: Pretty much anything they want. They are carnivorous, although they will eat vegetarians. (A little G.G. humor there.) Small gators eat fish, insects and small turtles. As they grow so does their appetite which then includes birds, other reptiles, rodents and the occasional dog, cat or deer that wonders too close.

Question: How do they eat?
Answer: In one gulp. They have no ability to chew their food so they just swallow it whole. If it’s too large, they shake it (referred to as a “death roll”) until bite-sized chunks fall off. Think chicken nuggets alligator style. Any larger prey gets drowned, and then left underwater until it starts to decompose. Gators find that yummy. Now aren’t you sorry you asked?

Question: Hi Gator Guru. Are gators gregarious?
Answer: Not after they are grown. Small gators tolerate others while they are maturing, but once they are grown they become solitary and territorial. A large gator, male or female (no discrimination here), will stake out a pond and attack any gator who wants a share. Should s/he be removed, another always seems to be in line to take over the pond.

Question: Speaking of gender, how does that happen?
Answer: The female has control of that, like so many things in nature. When she builds her nest of vegetation and mud, she selects a place which will be warmer or cooler to produce the hatchling’s sex. Cooler temperatures produce females; warmer temperatures produce males. (Note that G.G. is diplomatically passing on the humor here.)

Question: Hi Gator Guru. How do alligator wrestlers avoid getting eaten?
Answer: The gator’s jaw is designed to have crushing strength while closing, but minimal strength to open. If you watch the wrestler, you’ll see he holds the gator’s jaw closed at the snout. Then he tries to keep the tail from thrashing him off. Once victory is declared, he runs away quickly. (See above comments re alligators’ speed.)

Question: Do you own an alligator belt?
Answer: Yes. It’s beautiful – made in Italy.

Photo provided by BallenIsles resident Paul Goldstein

Article written by Cy Hornsby




Woodpeckers can peck holes in wooden house siding, gutters, drainpipes, and chimney and exhaust vents. The noise and damage from this pecking activity sometimes is annoying.

Pileated woodpeckers

There are three reasons why woodpeckers peck on houses. The first and most common is to establish territories and attract mates. This predominantly springtime behavior, called drumming, generally is done in rapid succession on resonant dead tree trunks or limbs. However, buildings and utility poles, when available, are often alternatives. Drumming may occur a number of times during a single day and may last for some days or months. The second reason woodpeckers attack our houses is to feed on insects that may have infested our siding. They naturally search vertical surfaces of tree trunks and branches for wood-boring beetles, carpenter ants, and other insects. The pecking style used for feeding is much different than drumming. Only a few pecks are made and then the resulting hole is explored with the bird’s bill and tongue. This behavior will continue until an insect is found or the bird is satisfied that one is not there. Then the woodpecker may hop a few inches away and peck at another place. The damage from this feeding activity usually occurs in horizontal lines that follow tunnels made by the insects. The third reason for woodpecker damage occurs when they excavate nesting cavities through house siding. Cedar siding is fairly soft and particularly vulnerable to woodpecker attacks of this nature. Fortunately, this attack is not very common.

Prevention and Control Methods

One of the most effective methods of excluding woodpeckers from damaging wood siding is to cover the siding with lightweight mesh nylon or plastic netting hung from the eaves. The netting should be kept at least 3 in out from the siding. Another exclusion technique is to cover the siding with sheets of plastic. Woodpeckers will not be able to perch on this smooth surface. Limited success can be obtained in some situations by using model owl or hawk silhouettes or various noise-making devices. Woodpeckers can be very persistent and are not easily driven from their territories or selected pecking sites. For this reason, visual or sound types of repellents should be employed as soon as the problem is identified and before territories are well established.

Photo taken by BIWF board member Mary Kirby

Cited by University of Florida Florida Wildlife Extension

Attention Pet Owners: Beware of Bufo Toads

Attention Pet Owners:  Beware of Bufo Toads

Bufo Toads in South Florida: a Threat to Your Pet      by Dr. Mary C. Fondren

bufo400x400The bufo toad (Bufo marinus) (also known as marine toad , giant toad, cane toad) is a huge brown to grayish-brown toad with a creamy yellow belly and deeply-pitted parotoid glands extending down the back (1). Adult giant toads generally range in size from 6 to 9 in (15 to 23 cm) but may get larger ( 1). They are replacing the native southern toad (Bufo terrestris) in the cities of southern Florida (2).


The first attempted introduction of this toad was in 1936 when the Agricultural Experimental Station of the University of Florida imported 200 marine toads from Puerto Rico and released them at Canal Point and Belle Glade in Palm Beach County Florida to control sugar cane pests (2). The current population was released before May 1955 near Miami airport (2). It is a relatively long-lived toad reaching ages up to 10 years (3).

The bufo toad sits in an upright position when it moves and hops in short fast hops (3). When confronted by a predator, it is able to “shoot” bufo toxin from the parotoid and other glands on the back in the form of white viscous venom (3). These secretions are highly toxic to dogs, cats, and other animals and can cause skin irritation in humans (1). These marine toads are most frequently seen under the street lights of the suburbs (2).


To avoid attracting toads to areas where pets are, do not leave pet food in open dishes in the yard. Bufos are attracted to watering dishes and may sit in the rim long enough to leave enough toxin to make a dog ill. Dogs that mouth bufo toads can get a large dose of the bufo’s toxins, secreted from the skin and parotoid glands. Symptoms generally include profuse foamy salivation that looks like shaving cream, difficulty breathing, brick red gums, convulsions, paralysis, ventricular fibrillation, vomiting, and uncoordinated staggering. Untreated, the pet death rate from Bufo marinus poisoning may approach 100% (4).

Keeping your dog on a leash and well supervised when outdoors should be sufficient to prevent bufo toad toxicity. We suggest you carry a flashlight at night, so that if the dog seems overly curious about something you can check it out. These toads don’t actually attack, but a curious dog sniffing or licking the toad can get poisoned as a result.

Bufo toads (actually that’s redundant as bufo is latin for toad) are seen mostly during the rainy season (late May to mid October) and most often at night near lighted areas as they are attracted by the bugs. They are seen much less frequently during daylight hours but can be found hiding under vegetation.  One of the ways to reduce toads in your yard is to eliminate potential food sources. Leaving uneaten pet food  or water bowls out in the yard can attract toads.

At Fondren Pet Care Center we see only a few cases of bufo toad toxicity each year. By educating our clients about the potential hazards we’ve reduced the incidence of encounters with toads. The Pet Emergency Clinic sees about a half dozen cases monthly with higher rates during the rainy season.

First Aid
Immediately rinse out the pet’s mouth with a drippy wet wash cloth several times to remove any toxin from the mouth. Do not use a hose to rinse the mouth as water can easily be forced into the lungs causing more problems. Proceed to the nearest veterinary clinic or emergency clinic as time is of the essence. The smaller the pet or the larger the toad, the greater there is a risk of toxicity.   Do not attempt to treat this at home.  Untreated, the death rate for Bufo marinus might approach 100%

These toads are a non-native species and are not protected. They can be removed and disposed of humanely by placing them in a plastic container (or bag) in the freezer for three days and then burying the carcasses. If you do not wish to handle the toads, contact a local nuisance animal trapper (4).

The native Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris) is sometimes mistaken for the Giant Toad. Here are a few ways to tell these toads apart:  While the Giant (Bufo) Toad has very large parotid glands, the Southern Toad has smaller kidney-shaped parotoid glands, which secrete a substance that may be irritating to mucous membranes but is not toxic. The Southern Toad has two ridges on its head that end in knobs. The Giant Toad does not have these. The adult Southern Toad ranges in length from 1.75 to 4.5 inches. The adult Giant Toad ranges in length from 4 – 6 inches.


Photos provided by: University of Florida, Florida Wildlife Extension Service web site
(1). This document is WEC-11, one of a series of the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Published: June, 1990. Reviewed: September, 2002.
(2). McCann Book Chapter 7,
(3). Bufo Marinas Cane toad, Giant Toad written by Ryan Hilgris, Michigan State University student
(4). Poisoned!, John Cargill & Susan Thorpe-Varg