Look, Don’t Touch!
Story by Tom Pagliaroli
Some things you simply cannot make up.
No, not as in re-scheduling, but as in sheer “I can’t believe I’m seeing this,” kind of, well, stupidity, especially when it comes to human/wildlife interaction.
This was in head-shaking evidence earlier this past week after enjoying the solitude of fishing a trout stream in a Sussex County state forest. The rod ‘n reel crowds were gone, but the rainbows were plentiful and, along with a few native brookies, made for an extremely enjoyable time with the fly rod.
The hike back to the SUV took me past a camping area, and emanating from one site were excited voices and giggles. Slowing down I saw that there was family, youngsters included, that were engaged in tossing what looked like Saltine crackers to an obviously campsite-savvy porcupine. A porky’s affinity for sodium is basic Wildlife 101, and this one had hit the mother lode. The docility of the critter was causing the kids to move ever-closer, and then I could not believe what I heard from Daddy Dearest.
“I think I read somewhere that you can pet them because they won’t ‘shoot’ the quills if they don’t think you’re gonna hurt them.”
Before the youngsters would be turned into bipedal pin cushions, I gave a rather strident “Don’t do that,” bit of advice, startling all, as they weren’t aware that I was standing there. I quickly explained that porcupine quills will instantly stab anything they come in contact with, especially when in the normal upright position. And being barbed, will dig ever deeper and just can’t be pulled out, thus necessitating a visit to the closest hospital for extraction.
“Besides,” I added, “they’re not capable of shooting their quills.”
Yeah, the kids were disappointed at not being able to cuddle their “pet porcupine”, but the parents were certainly relieved.
The porky, sated and not interested in hanging around, ambled away.
It happens every summer season as humans flock to state parks and forests and wildlife management areas, flood hiking trails and tracts designated as natural areas, and otherwise invade wildlife habitat. Inevitably there will be contact with all sorts of creatures, especially the four-legged kind, and in these days of still prevalent misinformation about wildlife borne of the animal rights craze that took root in the early Nineties, nasty things can happen.
Take the porcupine, for instance. Besides stabbing the bejesus out of you, a porky’s dentition and powerful jaws can inflict a bite from hell.
Wildlife, especially that which can be found around camping areas, is certainly enjoyable to watch, but leave it at that. Hey, there is no cuter sight than a momma raccoon and her posse of kits visiting to look for a handout. However, said mom is extremely protective and will think nothing of going up your leg like a buzz saw if she feels you are a threat. Rabies inoculations for sure, in addition to the sew-job it’ll require to close the wounds.
And chipmunks? Equally adorable, but don’t like to be crowded. An acquaintance discovered this years ago while camping in Bass River State Forest. Alvin, Theodore and Simon were scampering around, enjoying the sunflower seeds being tossed to them, and even came as close to the toe of the hiking boots to grab the bounty. Friendly lil’ cusses they were, chirping and all. Well, an attempt to pet one led to a rapid fire series of painful nips to the index finger and top of the hand. Opting for a thorough cleansing then a coating of antibiotic cream as opposed to a visit to the SOCH emergency room, it was lucky for the lady that the ‘munk was not a rabies host.
Snakes? For whatever reason, some woods-and-fields goers feel compelled to pick up a serpent if ascertained it is not venomous. Leave them alone. Garter, pine and corn snakes, and black racers especially, will bite and infection is certain unless treated quickly.
A late born whitetail deer fawn will be a little bundle of beauty if found nestled in high grass. It may appear helpless and abandoned, but is not. The doe is nearby most likely feeding and taking a break from nursing. Resist the urge to pick up the fawn and “save” it...Bambi will be fine unless a coyote or bear sniffs it out. But again, that’s Nature.
Bear cubs? It goes without saying. But I’ll say it anyway: “Leave them alone!”
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