Hairy Animal Control Tactics

Not Crazy About Cat Hunting? What About Toad Whacking?


April 19, 2005 — Like capital punishment and abortion, cat hunting is fast becoming one of those hot-button issues that ruins family dinners, breaks up marriages and causes political pollsters to break out in fits.

A proposal to allow the shooting of feral cats went before statewide hearings of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress last week, and hunters overwhelmingly supported it. Free-roaming felines are said to be killing off songbirds and other wildlife. If declared an unprotected species, they could be shot by licensed hunters — a possibility that has kitty lovers all over the world waving their litter shovels with righteous indignation.

For Wisconsin to legalize cat hunting, however, the proposal would have to be approved by the Natural Resources Board, the state Legislature and Gov. Jim Doyle, who has already said he would reject it.

In a sense, the issue is already dead, at least for now. But all around the country are reminders that humans and animals are having a tough time co-existing. America's deer population is exploding — and so is the number of deer-related vehicular accidents. The number of stray dogs has reached such epic proportions that one company has now gained FDA approval for a chemical castration drug for puppies.

If you thought cat hunting was strange, here are some other bizarre manifestations in the never-ending battle of man versus beast.

1. Teeing Off on Toads: Australia has given the green light to golf club-wielding toad vigilantes. Officials in the country's Northern Territory last week urged citizens to start smashing cane toads with anything they can get their hands on as the country gropes to deal with the toxic little creatures that are killing other animals and multiplying quickly.

Australia imported the cane toad from Hawaii in 1935 in a failed attempt to combat the greyback beetle, which was ravaging sugar cane fields. Now, millions of cane toads populate Australia's tropical region, and they're encroaching on the territory's capital city of Darwin. The green menace is so lethal, a wild dingo dog — or even a crocodile — can die of cardiac arrest within 15 minutes of snacking on one tiny toad.

Environmental groups were outraged by the call for a national toad tee-off, but Australia's Economic Minister Ian Campbell backed the plan. "I would encourage anything that has a practical effect on stopping cane toad numbers," he told The Herald Sun on Friday. A citizens group called "FrogWatch" is now contemplating what to do with mounting toad corpses. One member believes that toads can be mashed into a liquid fertilizer — known as "Toad Juice" — and used for home gardening.

2. Hog Wild Helicopters: Sharpshooters have taken to the sky in Oklahoma to stop the state's thousands of wild hogs from chowing down on peanut and wheat crops.

The gunners take aim from helicopters that cruise the plains where farms report seeing aggressive packs of hogs. These porkers are renegades, descendants of farm hogs that escaped their pens. They're leaner than their captive brethren with longer hair, pronounced tusks and an ornery disposition.

Some migrated from as far away as Texas and Arkansas.

"Now, they're just out there like deer," John Steuber, wildlife director for the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department, told The Associated Press in February.

"They are very difficult to fence out. They turn into a predator."

This is what happens when you describe a species as "the other white meat."

3. Rats on the Pill: Finally, a form of birth control nobody finds objectionable. The University of Texas announced two months ago that it's developing an oral contraceptive for rats and mice.

If you can just as easily give poison to pesky rodents, why bother offering them Mickey Mouse-sized birth control pills? Scientists say it's one way to guard against harming pets and other wild species that would eat the spiked food.

Animal control experts have experimented with oral contraception on other species that have become pests, but with mixed results. Deer tend to migrate and forage, making it hard to keep them on a fixed diet.

Rats may be better candidates for birth control, and efforts to preach abstinence to them have obviously failed.

4. A Bear-Haggard Man Marks Territory: Wall Street traders have more to worry about than a bear market. Big brown bears are invading the suburbs and weekend vacation towns where big city folks try to relax.

New Jersey has given more than 600 officers special training to deal with furry trespassers. Bear-related police complaints increased five-fold over the last decade. In western New Jersey, where sightings were once rare, the bear population is estimated at 3,000, and they're increasingly found going through suburban garbage cans.

The state lifted a three-decade ban on bear hunting two years ago, and local animal control officials have tried a variety of tactics, including paintball guns, to scare the beasts off.

In the suburb of Denville, animal control officer Meredith Petrollo told one homeowner to try a more natural method to scare off an unwanted tenant that had made a den beneath her deck. She instructed the woman to tell her husband to urinate in areas around the bear's home when the animal was away.

"They did it," Petrollo told The Boston Globe last December. "And the bear hasn't returned."

5. Roll Out the Pigeon Cannon: Bird droppings had fouled the Kennedy Bridge too long, ruining the scenic path over the Ohio River between Indiana and Kentucky. It was time to strike back.

Authorities tried everything to get pigeons, sparrows and starlings from nesting on the girders and dropping their mess on car roofs, bikers and pedestrians. Chemicals that would supposedly make the birds' feet burn didn't work nor did barbed wire and snake-like scarecrows.

When bridge workers tried a sound system that would play amplified recordings of predator animals, the birds just nested on the speaker boxes.

Finally, in February, it was time to go to war. Authorities rolled out a cannon that would cause ripples in the water as it boomed over the bridge, sending flocks of birds into the sky.

The bird cannon's 10-inch barrel was loaded with nothing more than propane and paper scraps. The point was to frighten the dirty birds, not pulverize them or even ruffle any feathers.

Similar cannon have been tried out in Oregon. The plan is to fire the weapon at intervals, hoping our fine, feathered friends would take it as a hint that they're not wanted.

Unfortunately, these bird brains haven't gotten the message, and it's unclear how the cannon could work as a long-term solution. Results are under review.

6. Got a Bird Problem, Hey Kool-Aid! You don't have to be a pigeon lover to worry about birds crashing into an airplane. The danger of so-called "bird strikes" became national news in 1960, when a jet leaving Boston sucked birds into all four engines, crashing into Boston Harbor and killing 62 people.

Airports report thousands of bird strikes each year. Most do no harm, but at least 195 people have died in such incidents, according to Bird Strike Committee USA, a group of government and aviation industry officials.

Some airports employ dogs, sharpshooters, air horns and various chemical repellants.

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport reported last year that they've even tried the grape flavoring in Kool-Aid. The chemical — called methyl anthranilate — apparently acts as a tear gas on some of our fine, feathered foes. To be sure, it's not the only measure they take, and that's certainly refreshing.

7. Gators Live in Hot Tubs, Not N.Y. Sewers: It would be hard to find a state where authorities haven't been wrestling alligators — even in the coldest of climates.

In Rhode Island in March, police say a 3-foot-long gator crept into a suburban backyard in Rehoboth, frightening a 10-year-old boy, who swatted the saurian with a golf club before authorities arrived.

A month earlier, authorities in Washington State issued a warning that a resident had spotted a caiman lingering in the reeds and ice waters of Lake Washington.

Why'd the police risk worrying the community after only one report? It wasn't the first time. Two other caimans were found in 1986 napping in Seattle's Green Lake, sparking local media to hold a naming contest, and another was found in 1992.

In many cases, especially in the Northern states, gators on the loose are house pets that have outgrown their welcome. Many states ban such exotic animals, but enforcement is difficult.

In September, Illinois police found a 5-foot-long, 80-pound gator thrashing around in a hot tub outside a home in Royalton, where it was being kept as a pet. They taped its jaws and sent it to a local zoo.

In the South, however, wild alligators, once endangered, are now an everyday nuisance. Police in South Florida answer thousands of complaints each year, routinely rousting them from golf courses and swimming pools, especially in the spring, the heart of the mating season.

South Florida animal wardens have killed about 8,000 gators in recent years, and relocate many more to wildlife preserves.

The state lifted its 1969 hunting ban in 1987, hoping to stem the gator population, now estimated at 1.5 million. Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana now also offer an alligator season.

With more city exposure, the gators are growing less fearful of humans. In Port St. Lucie last spring, one 4-foot-long gator wandered into Café Créme, a German-American restaurant, apparent attracted to the smell of sauerbraten and potato pancakes.

When authorities arrived, the unwelcome customer was making its way from the back door toward the kitchen.

Perhaps the only place alligators haven't been found is in the sewers of New York City. According to urban legend, a subterranean gator lair sprang up after city residents flushed their unwanted pets down the toilet. The baby gators then grew into man eaters.

Either these beasts had grown so fierce no sewer worker ever lived to tell the tale, or they just don't exist. Or, perhaps, they've been killed off by feral cats.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.