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Here's what to do for B.C. wild animals during extreme heat

With the ongoing heat wave it's not just people looking for ways to get out of the heat, the local wildlife is also doing what it can to stay cool.
Many animals will seek shade during the heat of the day. Photo via Eric Thompson

With the ongoing heat wave it's not just people looking for ways to get out of the heat, the local wildlife is also doing what it can to stay cool.

"Just like us, animals need to stay hydrated and need to find shelter so they can stay out of the scorching heat and sun," says BC SPCA wild animal welfare manager Andrea Wallace. "There's lots people can do in their own yards."

How to water the wildlife

The most immediate thing people can do is set up a birdbath. That can be a shallow dish that allows small animals to get a quick drink and a dip without concern for drowning. Something with slowly sloping sides is best, and adding rocks to the dish for a perch, and so the animals can climb out, is best, she adds.

Provincial WildSafeBC Coordinator Vanessa Isnardy agrees with the birdbath idea, but adds that putting anything larger out isn't a good idea. She notes that many animals are opportunistic when seeking food and water.

"Animals may show up in places we're not expecting them to show up," she says. Wallace agrees, noting all animals need water right now and will be keeping an eye out for it.

Most large mammals know where bodies of water are and will go to those. Creating larger artificial water sources may bring them into conflict with humans.

"It's not something we want to encourage," Isnardy says, noting that drawing predators into areas with lots of humans is a bad idea.

To that end, anyone that does have water in their backyard, like an ornamental pond or kids' pool, should check before heading outside, lest they be surprised by a furry visitor.

"Before you send the kids out check to see if animals are in your back yard," she says.

In addition to larger, potentially dangerous animals, putting water out may also bring out the pest animals, like rats, Isnardy adds.

She also points out that the tiniest creatures could also use a hand through the heat, and making sure your birdbath is insect-friendly could greatly help bees and the like. Adding a few stones that poke out above the surface allows them to land, lap up some water, and then continue on.

For those that do set up a birdbath, Wallace suggests washing it every couple of days, to help prevent the spread of disease.

Shady plants for all

While not something people can necessarily do today, Wallace notes that creating a shady space for animals is another good idea if you want to help animals through the hot days.

Creating shady areas with leafy plants, watering them lots and adding mulch around the base will provide much-appreciated shelter.

"Having lots of plants and shrubs and trees can provide that essential shade for animals," Wallace says. "Even tall grass and an unmown lawn can provide shelter for small animals."

If shade from plants isn't available, animals, like skunks, may seek protection from the sun under porches or other human structures.

Tips for being out in the wild

If you're entering the animals' homes, also known as nature, Isnardy has a few suggestions.

"In terms of helping wildlife the most important thing to do is keep your pets on a leash," she says.

It's a common tip, but made more important by the fact wildlife will be more stressed than usual now, and may be in more vulnerable positions. Recently Isnardy was out when she came upon a small crowd of people watching a raven acting oddly on the ground. She identified the behaviour as gular fluttering.

"It was just trying to remain cool, but it was also a bit more vulnerable," she says.

And since water is a major attractant for animals right now anyone near running water (like a creek) should be aware that an animal might not hear you coming and could be surprised by a human popping out of the bushes along the bank. Using your voice will alert animals ahead that something is coming.

"It's always best to let them know we're in the area," Isnardy says.

Recent encounters

This may all sound fairly theoretical, but the BC Conservation Officers Service (BC COS) reported three bear incidents this weekend in the Metro Vancouver area.

Sgt. Simon Gravel says incidents were reported in West Vancouver, North Vancouver and Coquitlam where bears entered homes. All were able to enter houses because doors were left open and the bear was able to either open or break down screen doors.

"During those heat waves be considerate of wildlife and moderate your access points, or if that's not possible keep them closed," he says.

One of the bears was trapped and euthanized. In the other incidents, the traps had to be removed as they were deemed inhumane given the heat.

Any bears that do find a food reward in a house learn that that's easier than hunting, he adds.

"We know, by experience, that any bear like this that gets the reward is very like to repeat the behaviours and teach cubs the behaviour," he adds.

Making sure that bears can't enter a house, therefore, will mean less dangerous encounters with people.

What to do if there's an animal you're not sure about

Wallace says for those who spot an animal they're concerned about there are two numbers to consider calling. For smaller animals, the BC SPCA call centre can provide guidance, at 1-855-622-7722 (1-855-6BC-SPCA).

For larger animals, like bears or cougars, it's best to directly call the BC COS hotline (also known as the Report All Poachers and Polluters or RAPP line) at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).