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Compassionate Wildlife Practices At Your Animal Sanctuary

A raccoon peering out from foliage.

You likely founded or work at your animal sanctuary because you are a compassionate person who cares about the wellbeing of others. You’re likely aware how important it is to keep residents safe, healthy, and happy once they come into your care, including safety from predation and disease by wildlife. Of course, wild animals deserve moral consideration as well, and should be treated as respectfully and compassionately as possible! This can be challenging when you feel your residents and their food sources are threatened. Ultimately, prevention is the best route for minimizing any conflicts between your sanctuary and wildlife.

General Wildlife Prevention Measures For Animal Sanctuaries

While there are some species-specific practices that you can implement to prevent conflict with wildlife, here are some basic measures that broadly apply in many situations:

Secure Your Sanctuary’s Trash

What animal wouldn’t enjoy a readily available meal that reduces the energy spent on hunting and foraging? If you have trash bins outside, consider keeping them in a secure indoor location until trash pick up. If this isn’t possible, be sure all trash is securely stored in the trash bins. There are special straps you can purchase to help prevent hungry wildlife from getting into your trash bins.

Be Vigilant About Food Sources

Don’t leave extra food out overnight. Pick up food dishes when animals are brought in for the night. Even a few leftover scraps can be enough to attract hungry wildlife! Properly store food supplies in refrigerators and sealable food bins inside a wildlife-resistant structure. If you have fruit trees onsite, be sure to pick up fallen fruit regularly and dispose of them, or feed them to residents as treats if appropriate.

Remove Wood/Rock/Brush Piles From Your Sanctuary Grounds

Large piles of wood, rocks, and plant matter can make ideal living spaces for a number of wildlife species. To discourage wild animals from moving in, be sure to clear piles of debris on the property and regularly examine potential hiding spots for unexpected residents.

Secure Your Sanctuary

When wildlife try to attack residents, they are often just trying to survive. It’s important to ensure the sanctuary isn’t worth their time. By installing the appropriate fencing and wildlife-proof housing, you ensure their efforts are fruitless, causing them to move on in their hunt for sustenance.

Tuck Residents In At Night

While some residents in some regions may safely have access to their outdoor living spaces in the evening, others are more vulnerable. Birds, smaller mammals, younger and older residents, and injured or ill residents are particularly vulnerable and require extra protection from predation. Establishing a nightly routine where vulnerable residents are tucked away safely in their indoor living spaces will help ensure their protection.

Consider Installing Wildlife Deterrents

Motion-activated lights, sounds, and sprinkler systems can help deter wildlife at night. Flags on fence lines have also shown to be successful deterrents for certain species who get spooked by the movement.

Trapping And Relocation Typically Aren't Effective

It may seem like a compassionate act, but unfortunately, trapping and relocation are generally unsuccessful and can lead to serious welfare issues and death for the wildlife being relocated. These tactics also doesn’t prevent new wildlife from making similar attempts.

Trapping and removing wildlife is a short-term solution, because it doesn’t address what is attracting animals to a specific site in the first place. As long as food attractants (such as garbage and outdoor resident food) and den sites remain at the initial location, other animals will soon replace those who are removed. Additionally, trapped animals may be nursing mothers, and separating them from their young can cause their young to starve. And although live traps may seem “humane”,  wildlife can often injure themselves trying to escape or suffer from heart failure due to the stress of entrapment.

Studies have shown that relocated wildlife have very high mortality rates. This can be due to an inability to find food, water, or suitable dens. Territorial disputes and a lack of knowledge of the surrounding area can prevent them from escaping predators and contribute to low survival rates. Many animals frantically spend their time trying to get back to their home, and often die during the process.

For these reasons, please consider alternative measures when managing wildlife concerns!

Species-Specific Compassionate Practices

The above suggestions are general practices that can be applied in many situations. Below, we go into more species-specific strategies for discouraging wildlife from seeing your animal sanctuary as a place to live or find food. There are many different species that you may come into contact with, depending where your sanctuary is in the world. It’s hard to cover them all; below you’ll find information pertaining mostly to wildlife in North America.

Please contact us if you would like us to look into a wildlife species concern that isn’t currently included! We would be happy to provide resources on additional species upon request.

Bears
  • Bears have a great sense of smell, so it is important to clean up any food and dispose of it properly
  • Store garbage in bear proof dumpsters and trash bins. (See retailers like bearsmart.com for potential solutions)
  • Keep your residents secured indoors at night
  • Remove uneaten food for residents, and dispose of it properly (Bears will be especially hungry in the late summer through early autumn)
  • Keep any fruit trees picked and remove fallen fruit from the ground
  • Keep feathered residents in secure housing, using solid wood and heavy-gauge wire (at least 14-gauge) fastened with screws and washers over any vents or other openings
  • Place bear-secure locks on all doors
  • Electric fencing barriers can be an effective tool for discouraging bears

Cougars
  • While cougars are unlikely to be interested in your garbage, they are interested in the wildlife that may come to eat your garbage! Be sure to establish and abide by wildlife-proof trash policies
  • Smaller residents are particularly vulnerable, and should be kept in secure enclosed housing at night
  • Cougars are excellent climbers, so it’s unlikely regular fencing will deter them. Some have reported some success with electric fencing
  • Flashing lights and motion-detecting sprinklers may also be effective deterrents
  • Removing brush, wood piles and other areas of coverage may help discourage cougars from approaching your property

Coyotes
  • Coyotes are clever, opportunistic eaters. As such, it is important to keep garbage in secure wildlife-proof bins
  • Coyotes will happily gobble up certain types of veggies and fruits as well, making it important to keep any fruit trees and gardens cleared of produce in coyote-prone areas
  • Removing brush, wood piles and other areas of coverage may help discourage coyotes from approaching your property
  • Adding coyote-roller fencing can be effective in preventing coyotes from entering a space. You can create this fencing on your own as well!
  • Keep smaller residents tucked away safely at night
  • Secure housing with perimeter fencing that is buried down into the ground, or runs 18-plus inches outward and horizontally to the ground (This is called an L-shaped footer)
  • Reinforce the walls and door of structures, and secure any openings with heavy, 16-gauge welded wire mesh with 1-inch by 1-inch openings

Foxes
  • Foxes are clever, spry animals who certainly might see some residents as a potential meal. To prevent this, be sure resident housing is secure, particularly for smaller residents
  • Bury an L-shaped footer around outer perimeter fencing to prevent foxes and other wildlife from digging under the fence
  • Foxes are generally pretty cautious around humans and can be dissuaded from continuing onto sanctuary property with motion-sensitive alarms and even radios, and loud banging and shouting (But be mindful not to frighten your residents!)
  • Reinforce feathered residents living spaces with locked doors and windows, and secure any openings with heavy, 16-gauge welded wire with 1-inch by 1-inch openings

Hawks & Owls
  • Your smaller residents are vulnerable to attacks from the air. Adding mesh “predator netting” to the tops of their outdoor living spaces can protect them from predation from hawks and owls
  • Reducing mice and rat populations by securely storing and disposing of food will make your sanctuary less appealing to avian predators

Contraception: A New, More Compassionate Alternative To Mice And Rat Population Control

Contrapest and Conntraceptal are two products that have been reported as effective contraception for rats and mice. They work by providing a tasty, non-toxic contraceptive formula that attracts mice or rats and prevents new litters from being born. Over time, this can have a hugely beneficial effect for sanctuaries with large rodent populations.

Mice
  • Mice can enter buildings through openings no larger than the size of a dime, and can easily climb inside walls using the studs and wiring to navigate
  • The key to excluding mice from buildings is to very thoroughly examine all possible points of entry around foundations: where utility pipes and wires pass into the house, where siding has deteriorated and holes occur, cracks in foundations, and any other places where an entryway might be suspected
  • Nontoxic powder (such as baby powder, talc, or even flour) sprinkled lightly along the inside perimeters of walls and thresholds will show tracks where mice are active, and can be instrumental in helping to decide where additional exclusion efforts are needed
  • Many different materials can be used to exclude mice from buildings. Wire mesh or quick-drying cement can plug cracks around drainpipes and small openings where mice may gain access
  • Galvanized window screening can be balled and stuffed into larger openings that are then finished with caulking or cement. The best material for sealing openings that are not associated with electrical wiring is copper mesh
  • The expanding foam insulation sold in many hardware stores is excellent for filling small to medium-sized openings, and has the advantage of being available in commercial kits for larger jobs. Avoid caulking or other rubber or plastic fillers; mice can chew through these substances easily
  • Store food in containers that cannot be chewed through and clean up spills and food from residents daily

Rats
  • Rats can enter buildings through holes as small as one-inch wide
  • All holes and openings should be sealed with heavyweight material (one quarter-inch hardware cloth or heavy-gauge screening is recommended)
  • Heating vents and barn ventilation fans, often overlooked, should be checked to ensure rats cannot enter through them
  • Check for gaps where rats could enter wherever electrical conduit, utility, or air conditioning lines enter a building
  • Copper mesh can plug openings in walls and floors
  • Caulking or foam sealants can seal openings, but because rats can gnaw through them, they work best when combined with wire mesh
  • Store food in containers that cannot be chewed through, and clean up spills and food from residents daily

Opossums
  • Opossums may be attracted by the smell of food in a trash bin, so ensure you have a secure lid for all trash receptacles (or use bungee cords or use a product like the Animal Stopper trash can) so the problem doesn’t recur
  • Put the garbage out on the mornings of trash pickup days, or get a secure outdoor enclosure for all trash bins
  • Opossums may wander into buildings left open if there is access to food, birdseed bags or trash. If you believe an opossum may have wandered into a building and is hiding, sprinkle some flour on the floor at exit points, and secure the building after you see footprints leading outside.
  • Collect eggs on a daily basis.
  • Keep resident housing secure
  • Opossum feces can carry the protozoan responsible for equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM). EPM is a neurological disease. Ingesting feed contaminated with the protozoan puts horses at risk of contracting EPM. Remove any waste opossums may have left behind

Raccoons
  • Raccoons will eat just about anything, including chickens and their eggs! For this reason, it is imperative that garbage is safely contained in secured trash bins
  • Keep trash away from the prying paws of your raccoon neighbors by using animal-proof bins or bands that lock the lid in place. Keep trash bins in locked storage buildings
  • Mint-scented trash bags, used consistently over time, may help deter raccoons as well.
  • Raccoons will happily gobble down any food left out for your residents, so be sure to bring in any food at night and properly dispose of it.
  • Food storage buildings should be inspected for any openings where wildlife may be able to squeeze through. These areas should be repaired and covered with wildlife-proof galvanized mesh if they aren’t covered with wood.
  • Collect eggs on a daily basis.
  • All resident housing should be wildlife proof, with smooth solid or 16-gauge galvanized mesh covering any openings not covered with wood.
  • Raccoons can still injure and kill a resident chicken if they are able reach their paws through any protective fencing or covering.
  • Raccoons can also manipulate latches and get into places that might surprise you! Double latching and securing latching can help prevent any unwanted visitors.

Skunks
  • Skunks may wander into open buildings.  If you believe a skunk may have wandered into a building and is hiding, sprinkle some flour on the floor at exit points, and secure the building after you see footprints leading outside
  • Secure your trash properly so that other animals are not able to push over or spread trash on the ground for the skunk to find
  • Secure trash lids with bungee cords or get an Animal-proof trash can
  • Put the garbage out on the mornings of trash pickup days, or get a secure outdoor enclosure for all trash bins

Snakes
  • Make your yard less attractive to snakes (and their prey) by cleaning up any debris piles which they could hide in
  • Lush vegetation and easy access to water attract both snakes and their prey
  • Fence snakes out with 4-foot high smooth solid or fine galvanized mesh
  • Cover drainage areas with quarter inch (or finer) galvanized mesh
  • Look for trees and shrubs that give climbers a way in (many species of snakes can climb) to resident housing
  • Keep food properly stored and take steps to prevent mice and rats from entering buildings, as they may draw snakes

Waterfowl
  • Unfortunately, your waterfowl residents can contract diseases from their wild counterparts, so it is important to prevent contact if at all possible
  • If ducks and geese congregate in an area that is small enough to be enclosed, plastic netting or chicken wire fencing will keep them out
  • Waterfowl are attracted to large expanses of lawn, especially near water. Landscaping with barriers of shrubs, hedges, or tightly-planted groves of trees will break up the line of flight between the lawn and the adjoining water
  • To scare waterfowl away, place poles with 2-by-3-inch plastic flags that have been split down the center. Suspend the flags so they will move with the wind
  • Eyespot balloons and bird-scare tape are effective waterfowl deterrents available through catalogs and at garden and hardware stores
  • Waterfowl are also sensitive to noise. You can buy a variety of automatic noise-making devices (but be sure they don’t stress residents out!)

Wolves
  • Creating barriers around small pastures and barns can deter wolves. Barriers can be fixed fences or fladry. Fladry uses flags that wave and move, which scares away many predators. Fencing can also be electrified to deter wolves
  • Having a human presence will typically deter most predators, including wolves
  • Secure residents in predator-proof living spaces by burying an L-shaped footer at the base of your fencing to prevent wolves from digging into the enclosure
  • Use a motion-detecting light source outside of resident housing. You can purchase solar-powered varieties for easy installation and maintenance
  • Use motion-detecting alarms to startle and discourage wolves from entering the property
  • Keep garbage properly disposed of and inaccessible to all wildlife

While this is not an exhaustive list of wildlife you may encounter at your sanctuary, we hope it provides you some tools to help protect residents while still respecting the lives of wildlife.

SOURCES:

Solutions For Wildlife Conflicts | Greenwood Rehabilitation Center

Humane Wildlife Conflict Resolution Guide | Humane Society Of The United States

Living With Snakes | Advocates For Snake Preservation

Coyote Conflict Solutions | Humane Society Of The United States

Waterfowl | PAWS Wildlife

Raccoons | PAWS Wildlife

Coyotes | PAWS Wildlife

Innovative Solutions To Wildlife Conflict | USDA (Non-Compassionate Source)

Coexisting With Larger Carnivores | The Endangered Wolf Center (Non-Compassionate Source)

Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on October 21, 2020

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