Most of us think of the Humane Society of the United States as an organization dedicated to the welfare of companion animals and perhaps domestic and alternative livestock. But the HSUS is also very cognizant of the needs of wildlife species and through its Humane Wildlife Services program, works to mitigate human-wildlife conflict in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Conflict with wildlife is not just an animal welfare issue, it also has many implications for the conservation of wildlife populations.
Here is my interview with Stephanie Boyles Griffin, senior director of Wildlife Response, Innovations & Services for The Humane Society of the United States:
John Griffin, director of Humane Wildlife Services and his colleague, Lori Thiele, began service operations in May 2007. This direct hands-on service grew out of The HSUS’ well-established and successful Wild Neighbors, an urban wildlife program that promotes co-existence and humane, effective and long-term ways of solving conflicts between people and wildlife.
While our technical guidance and support services are available to anyone with an Internet connection or a phone, our direct service is currently only available in the D.C. metropolitan area. Our clients are just looking for a service provider who offers a competitively priced, humane solution that works.
Who staffs the programs of the service?
At the moment we have three highly-trained technicians who are not only good problem solvers, animal handlers and ladder climbers, but understand the biology and characteristics of wild animals and how those animals might use homes, buildings and other structures as den sites. Experience handling and solving conflicts with wildlife or construction is valued in our staff, but we really look for humane minded people that are excellent problem solves.
Our experts answer calls from perplexed and frightened home owners, and we help them address problems in lasting, humane ways. It’s rewarding to be able to help people and save animals.
What are some examples of the service’s capabilities?
We solve conflicts with a range of wildlife species – more than 30 different species in fact. We are experts at identifying animal entry points as well as the particular species of animal by the associated damage and sign. Our rescue work has ranged from saving animals who have fallen into building voids, the proverbial cat in a tree, hawks trapped inside buildings, and ducklings off of terraces. But the core of our work involves humanely evicting animals from chimneys, voids and attics and some of these jobs can be large in scale.
For instance, bat evictions at a university, church or apartment building can be very large and technically challenging. We can also address flooding and other issues caused by beaver, and often consult with communities and municipal entities on humane and effective conflict resolution strategies.
One of the most challenging assignments we had was a bat eviction and exclusion job on an historic plantation house. Because of the beauty and historic nature of the site the front lawn of the house was used to host events including weddings and other private functions. In the evening the bats would emerge and forage for insects – just above the heads of guests on the lawn, causing some amount of drama. No one wanted to harm the bats, so Humane Wildlife Services was called in. The bats were using the top of the large columns as their home. Any plan to evict and exclude the bats could not damage or alter these columns. The height of the columns presented a challenge, as well as their delicate and ornate nature. We designed a custom drape that let the bats out, but not back in without harming them.
Do you take both welfare issues and conservation issues under consideration?
Our approach, what we call The Humane Approach, is based on eviction – through a one-way door device or release-on-site – keeping the family unit together, and closing up the entry points. We identify the species and how they are getting in, evict them and then seal or protect the entry and other potential entry points with the appropriate exclusion material.
Most of the time animals are looking for a den site to have and raise young and it doesn’t matter to them if it is a tree or the attic of your home – whatever best meets their den criteria. Unprotected vents and poorly built structures allow that to happen. One of the most important things we do is make sure the family unit stays together. If a mom thinks her babies are inside an attic she has been sealed out of, she can do a lot of damage getting back in to get them. For us, this involves getting the young out and reuniting them with their parent instead of relocating them to a rehabber or animal shelter.
On the conservation side, we don’t translocate animals outside of their home range where they might introduce disease nor do we affect population dynamics one way or the other.
How effective has the program been to date?
The HSUS’ Humane Wildlife Services program has been very effective. We have learned a lot and continue to learn more about wildlife in urban environments. So far we have provided long-term solutions to wildlife conflicts to more than 1,600 satisfied residential, commercial, government and community clients. Along the way, we’ve helped rescue, rehydrate and reunite a raccoon family, relocate 5 baby squirrels and their mom, evict bats in an attic, rescue and release barred owls back into their habitat and so much more.
Do many people in the DC metropolitan area know of the service?
We’re continuing to get the word out about Humane Wildlife Services. Residents in the D.C. metropolitan area typically learn about us through their local animal shelter, word-of-mouth or on the web at humanesociety.org.
How can people in other states deal with wildlife conflict?
The Humane Approach to solving wildlife conflicts is gaining traction in communities across the county. People in other states can also check out The Humane Society of the United States’ Solving Problems and Choosing a Wildlife Control Company web pages.