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Relocating Nuisance Wildlife

Not as humane as you might think...Skunk release. Photo by Rick Benson

Many people believe that it is more humane to relocate problem wildlife than to kill the offending animal. While on its face, this idea seems to make sense. Taking the animal and putting him back into the woods, "where he belongs" sounds reasonable.


Relocation: technically means moving the animal from one spot in its home range to another spot within its home range. In other words, moving a squirrel from your basement to the backyard is relocation because you have released the squirrel within its familiar environment. The problem with this word is that it is most often used to refer to that activity of moving an animal out of its home area.

Translocation: is a technical term meaning to move an animal from its home range to an entirely new area, usually a considerable distance away from where the animal was found. When states forbid the movement of animals, they typically wish to prohibit translocation. They generally are not referring to the relocation of an animal from your attic to the backyard because the animal is still within its home range.

In this page, we will use the term relocation because any disturbance to an animal's normal activities, such as evicting him/her out of a structure, increases the animal's chances of death. While eviction may be better for the animal than certain death, questions remain on whether it can meet the definition of humane as commonly used.

Unfortunately for the animal, relocation has a number of bad side effects:

  1. Relocated animals must find new food sources in an unfamiliar environment.

  2. Relocated animals must find new shelter in an unfamiliar environment. In the winter time, relocated wildlife have precious little time to find shelter.

  3. Relocated animals must do number 1 and 2 above while avoiding predators. It must also do those tasks before weather, food and water conditions take their toll.

  4. Your relocation may result in the deaths of young through starvation that have now lost their mother from your relocating her away from her young.

  5. Relocating animals raises the risk of relocating a disease like rabies to new and uninfected locales. Like what happened with the Mid Atlantic Rabies Outbreak.

  6. It may also be illegal in your state. Presently, Massachusetts, Connecticut and possibly others have some sort of ban on the translocation of wildlife.

Biological Principles behind Relocation

by Bob Noonan

A lot of species have been successfully relocated and reintroduced (turkeys, otter, beaver a few years back, etc.) , but I would guess a big part of this is the fact that there is/was probably plenty of room in that ecological niche. Otters for example have thrived when reintroduced into their original ranges because no other animal had moved in to take their place.

There have been plenty of relocation failures too, the most famous in our area being Maine's very expensive and well publicized attempt to reintroduce caribou. Another example; attempts to reintroduce the red wolf in the south are not doing well because of the abundance of coyotes, which moved into the red wolf's niche after it was extirpated. Now the coyotes simply breed with the introduced red wolves, and the pure stock is disappearing through a process biologists call "genetic swamping."

I've read that exotics (plants, animals, and insects) do well because they either fill a previously unfilled niche, or compete with the locals so much better that they take over (kudzu vine strangling other vegetation, etc.).

I'd guess that the main problem with relocationg species like groundhogs, squirrels, beavers, raccoons, deer, etc. is that nationwide almost all available habitat is already pretty much full, and there simply isn't any more room left for that particular species. When these species were first relocated in new areas they flourished until they filled the available habitat.

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