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Thursday, July 19, 2007 (SF Chronicle)
City's home to lots of wild things
Skunks, raccoons, pigeons only rarely clash with humans
By Kantele Franko, Chronicle Staff Writer

    Interaction between city dwellers and urban wildlife can be fatal
 for creatures that threaten public safety, but such extreme outcomes are
 the exception in a city where many residents underestimate the prevalence
 of animals, wildlife experts say.
   The coyote attack on a dog -- which led to the killing of two coyotes in 
Golden Gate Park last weekend -- remind residents that they share a limited 
space with a variety of creatures.
   "People don't realize exactly how much wildlife exists in the city,"
 said San Francisco animal control Officer Andrea Runge, who has spent a
 decade rescuing animals that have been injured or wandered too far into human
   Runge said she and other officers from San Francisco Animal Care and
Control receive 10 to 20 wildlife-related calls each day. The office never
   Between July 2006 and June 2007, the department processed more than
700 wild animals that were re-released into a more suitable environment or
sent to a rehabilitation agency, Deputy Director Kat Brown said.
   Some of the calls play like broken records. Skunks fall into construction
holes or end up with their heads stuck inside yogurt containers after a
late-night snack. Squirrels and bats get stuck in chimneys, ducks cross
streets and hold up traffic, and raccoons barge through dog doors in
search of pet food.
   "We get calls all the time going, 'Oh my god, there's a raccoon walking
down my street,' " Runge said. "We go, 'Yeah, that happens all the time.'
We prefer that people just stay away, and they don't because it's new to
   Other situations are not so unusual. Ubiquitous pigeons and rats
annoy residents in all sorts of ways. Coyotes have been spotted from the
Presidio to Candlestick Park.
   Similar animal sightings are common in urban areas throughout the
region, and some animals that are absent in San Francisco pop up in other
counties. California quail are rare in the city but frequently seen in
Marin and San Mateo counties. Mountain lions, like one spotted near Los
Altos Hills on Tuesday, occasionally creep into neighborhoods.
   Several counties have foxes, though development has virtually erased San
Francisco's native gray fox from the city, said wildlife ecologist Bill
Merkle of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. However, non-native
red foxes have been in seen areas such as Golden Gate Park and the
   Keeping animals and humans separate becomes increasingly difficult
 as the human population grows and development continues, especially in a
 limited space like the Peninsula, Merkle said.
   Wildlife experts agree that the biggest danger occurs when the mutual fear
or respect between humans and wild animals dissipates, as it does, for
example, when humans regularly feed the critters.
   Such was the case in September at a Mountain View park, where squirrels
became accustomed to people offering them peanuts, and several attacked
visitors, said Jamie Ray, director of the San Francisco Rescued Orphan
Mammal Program. The squirrels were trapped and euthanized.
   Local animal protection organizations, such as Ray's volunteer group
and the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, say
residents' misperceptions about urban wildlife contribute to the danger
for both humans and animals.
   "Wildlife cause a lot of conflicts for humans, but humans cause a lot of
conflict for wildlife," she said.
   Euthanizing animals is the last option on Ray's list of preferred
responses, unless the animal poses a serious safety threat. Instead, she
urges residents who call her to remain calm and recognize that in most
situations, animals mean no harm. Skunks that crawl under fences often are
searching for food, and the young raccoons that once had a pillow fight
with the cushions from some lawn furniture were just acting their age.
   "These animals are not trying to bother them," she said. "They're just
doing what's natural."