Going on safari - in your own backyard

During the past 10 years, according to the US Census Bureau, the proportion of people living in the suburbs increased in every region of the country. And as rural areas become more crowded - and as endangered animals are reintroduced to habitats they once occupied - human encounters with bears, coyotes, mountain lions, or bats have become commonplace.

People moving into the suburbs often have no idea what they are getting into, say many state wildlife officials. "They want to be in this remote, suburban atmosphere, but they don't want javelinas to come into their backyard and eat their tulips," says Kerry Baldwin of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, referring to the desert creatures that resemble hairy pigs.

Unused to sharing space with wildlife, many urbanites do not safeguard their homes. Barbecue grills, bird feeders, and garbage cans are all open invitations to a hungry bear. Pets left overnight in the backyard are easy prey for coyotes.

Despite new homeowners' naivet, little is being done to educate them. Although state wildlife officials publish educational brochures, and offer educational programs, they find it difficult to disseminate information until residents contact them. And while some have tried working with realtors to educate prospective home buyers, they've had little success.

Since some realtors seem to be less forthcoming than others, Dan Marks, wildlife-education supervisor with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, has this suggestion: "If you're moving from urban to rural, and wildlife is one of the things that looked attractive in the beginning, learn as much as you can about it. And learn to live with it."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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