In Detroit’s early days, the land around Raquel Garcia’s Southwest Detroit home was mostly forest, but that only partly explains why there are a dozen baby raccoons in her dining room.
Garcia is a professional environmental activist who also puts in long hours as a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator with a focus on raccoons. Raccoons in a chimney? She gets a call. Orphaned baby raccoon in a backyard? She’ll bring it home to the cages in her house, where she’ll feed it until it grows enough to survive on its own.
Every time she brings in an animal, she believes she is saving its life.
Human-wildlife relations in cities are often uneasy, and tend to end poorly for wildlife. Earlier this year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) added rabbits, possums and beavers, among other animals, to the list of critters a property owner can kill without a permit.
People were rarely denied permits to kill animals such as muskrats or beavers, but the permits also weren’t issued quickly enough to keep wildlife from damaging property, said Rachel Leightner, a wildlife specialist for the DNR.
Luckily, there are many ways to deal with wildlife in Detroit short of cracking open a gun locker or hiring a pricey animal removal service.
“We live in Detroit, there’s lots of open land, and there’s gonna be wildlife,” Garcia said.
Her advice? “Just call someone who knows what they’re doing and leave the wildlife alone.”
There’s more you can do. Here’s a guide to relating to neighborhood fauna as cheaply and humanely as possible.
Why wildlife thrives in Detroit
Cities are rough places for wild animals, which “get hit by cars” and “attacked by dogs,” said Cindi Russ, founder of Ferndale-based Motor City Possum Rescue. “In the fall, I get a lot of juvenile possums with rat trap injuries.”
Still, some animals find ways to thrive in Detroit, thanks in part to our low population density and large parks. Beavers, muskrats, cottontail rabbits, skunks, possums, groundhogs, foxes, coyotes and more make themselves at home in Detroit.
Favorable conditions for wildlife can lead to conflict with humans. Just this month, the city held a meeting about goose and deer populations exploding in Rouge and Chandler parks and spreading into surrounding neighborhoods.
“The ecosystem in (those parks) has gone unbalanced,” said Jessica Parker, deputy chief operating officer for the City of Detroit.
Local officials have raised the possibility of following East Lansing’s lead, tasking sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with killing a specified number of deer. Detroit residents can weigh in on the issue through a city survey.
A meeting about wildlife around Palmer Park is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Palmer Park Community Building, 1121 Merrill Plaisance.
City officials said the meeting is geared toward residents of the neighborhood, but the meeting is public and no registration is required. Department of Natural Resources officials will advise attendees on avoiding property damage by wildlife.
Enjoy the moment if possible
Like their human neighbors, Detroit wildlife tend to be most active between spring and fall. Detroiters are most likely to encounter wildlife during the spring mating season, and again in late summer when young animals strike out to look for food and new territory, Leightner of the DNR said.
In most cases, these interactions are of the “ooh look a bunny!” variety, and are entirely safe.
Wildlife in southeast Michigan are generally “petrified of humans,” Leightner said. “If you encounter one and you make loud noises, a lot of times that will make them flee the area and not want to come back.”
Some of these animals can be frightening or dangerous to small pets. Coyotes, in particular, may attack fowl and small pets.
But even the largest mammals that hang around Detroit are generally skittish around humans. While interactions might be unnerving for animals and residents, Russ said there are advantages to having coyotes and possums, in particular, nearby: They hunt pests like insects, mice and rats.
“They’re part of our ecosystem. They’re part of our world,” she said.
If there’s a problem, start with ‘hazing’
It may be difficult to think in terms of ecosystems when an unwanted animal visitor shows up in your attic.
Wildlife are mostly looking for a safe place to eat and rest. If they find it at your house, the DNR and animal rehabilitators recommend frat house-style hazing.
“If you turn on the lights and you turn on … really loud music, they’re going to want to leave,” Russ said. “If you have one in your attic, you can call a pest removal company, but they’ll charge a lot of money. You can haze them out.
“I would always recommend that people try that first because it doesn’t cost anything.”
The DNR’s list of hazing techniques for coyotes includes spraying water from a hose at the animal, popping open an umbrella, yelling and banging pots and pans together.
If that doesn’t work, get help
If hazing doesn’t work and you’re not up for shooting an animal, there is plenty of expert help.
The DNR licenses animal rehabilitators who can provide advice and remove animals who are injured or orphaned. Rehabilitators will give wildlife food and a place to live until the animal is ready to survive in its natural habitat. They generally don’t charge for their work.
For example, if you found a baby raccoon in your backyard that was abandoned and unable to fend for itself, you might call a licensed rehabilitator like Garcia to pick it up.
If the animal is causing a problem — building nests in your walls or killing chickens, for example — you can also call a licensed animal removal businesses, which can charge hundreds of dollars to remove animals. These companies usually trap the animal before either relocating or killing it.
If what you want is advice, there are plenty of Facebook pages operated by wildlife rehabilitators that can offer ideas in real-time, though online posters may not be experts. Russ recommended Livonia-based Halfway Home and Detroit-based Marley’s Castle.
Don’t call Detroit Animal Control to deal with the wildlife unless the animal has bitten a human or pet.
Make sure the problem doesn’t return
If you’ve had to remove an animal from your property, don’t stop there. If an animal gets inside your home, make sure to close up the hole that it came through after it’s gone.
Most wildlife isn’t aggressive, Leightner said. Animals are typically looking for food — things like seed from bird feeders and garden beds or food left over from a cookout.
“Just be mindful of cleaning up after yourself,” she said.
As long as the thing that attracted the animal is still there, others will likely be close on its tail.
Brush piles and open air garages can also provide appealing shelter for wildlife, Leightner added.
What if the animal is acting strangely?
If a wild animal doesn’t seem startled or afraid of your presence, it could be injured or diseased.
“If you come across animals and you’re concerned that they’re not acting right, we strongly encourage you to contact your local wildlife biologist” for advice on handling the situation, Leightner said.
An earlier version of this story featured a graphic that scrambled an animal fact and picture. Deer are not, in fact, the largest rodents in North America. The beaver has been returned to its rightful place as rodent supreme. We regret the error.