Friday, March 20, 2009

Texas: Frisco neighborhood just bobcat's backyard

09:05 PM CDT on Thursday, March 19, 2009
By ELIZABETH LANGTON / The Dallas Morning News

North Texas residents are accustomed to the annual spring bloom of wildlife that wanders through their backyards – rabbits, squirrels, opossums, ducks and even armadillos.

But a bobcat?

Kevin Green exited his north Frisco home early March 5 and spotted one casually strolling through the neighborhood.

"He was walking up driveways and across the neighbors' lawns," said Green, who lives north of Main Street and west of the Dallas North Tollway. "He was not really disturbed by me at all."

As the suburbs continue their outward sprawl, housing developments are taking over more and more wildlife habitats. Spring birthing season and the hunt for food further increase the chances of human-animal encounters.

Green snapped some photos of the bobcat from his car and called Frisco police. He was surprised by their response.

"They said that unless there was an attack, they wouldn't do anything," he said.

Mike Hansen, Frisco's senior animal control officer, said wild animals such as bobcats and coyotes have adapted to urban environments. Unless they become aggressive, wildlife experts see no reason to remove them.

"People see something like that and think, 'That doesn't look right. They shouldn't be here,' " he said. "But they're out there; they're part of the ecosystem. Most people just don't see them."

Sightings tend to sprout public alarm, but wildlife officials say the stories often become exaggerated.

Reports of mountain lions surfaced in Allen, Lucas and Coppell in the past two years. But in each case, Texas Department of Wildlife officials found no evidence of a mountain lion and determined that the animal was likely a large canine.

Last spring, Plano hired a wildlife trapper to remove a bobcat that mauled a small dog. In 2007, Southlake declined to capture a bobcat blamed for killing ducks in a residential pond.

In February, an animal bit an Allen jogger on the leg. Some reports identified it as a coyote, but animal control officers suspect it was more likely a stray dog.

Bobcats and coyotes rarely exhibit unprovoked aggression toward humans, said John Young, a mammalogist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Dog bites far outnumber wildlife attacks each year in the U.S.

"People tend to worry because it's an uncontrolled animal, a wild animal," he said. "But there's really not much to fear."

Some cities let residents borrow traps to capture nuisance animals, and others sometimes hire experts to relocate them. But most animal control officials try to educate people how to peacefully coexist with wildlife.

Maintaining the animals' innate fear of humans is the best way to prevent any trouble, Young said. If you come across a bobcat or coyote that isn't menacing, scare it away by yelling, making loud noises or throwing rocks. Eliminate possible food sources by securing garbage and pet food.

Hansen suggests keeping landscaping well-manicured and avoiding growing plants that rabbits eat. If rabbits and rodents inhabit a yard, bobcats and coyotes, which feed on the smaller critters, are bound to follow.

"Don't give the animal a really good environment that makes him want to be there," he said.

Green says that after learning more about bobcats, he feels less apprehensive about the animal's presence. But he still worries that if the animal became desperate for food, it might go after a small child.

"I don't want to create a panic, but I do think people should know it's there," he said.

Wild animals in the suburbs

With the arrival of spring, reports of wild animals are likely in suburban areas. Here are some tips to prevent a close encounter:

Discourage the animals' presence by removing food sources.

Secure trash containers; don't leave pet food out; pick up fruit that falls from trees.

Clean up scattered birdseed from feeders.

The seeds attract squirrels and rodents, a food source for larger animals.

Scare away animals with a disturbance.

Sound an air horn, bang pots, yell or throw rocks.

Trim landscaping around the house and pool.

Don't give animals a source of shelter.

Keep small pets inside at night.

Keep eye contact and slowly back away from larger, wild animals that are menacing.

Don't turn and run, which could trigger an attack.

Report animal sightings and attacks.

Contact the DFW Wildlife Coalition Hotline, 972-234-9453, the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, 512-389-8047, and local animal control officials.

SOURCES: City of Frisco; Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife


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