Relocating Problem Wild Animals

Not as humane as you might thinkOpossum released from a cage trap

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.

Control Methods


  • On-site release: This occurs when you let a non-target animal go from the spot where you caught it (see the opossum released (on-site) in the image to your right; photo by Wildlife Control Consultant.) Nothing is wrong with this technique provided the animal appears healthy and the anmal does not pose a significant risk to public safety (e.g. you don't release a mountain lion on-site when you caught him in the downtown area of a city.) or risk to the animal.
  • Relocation: technically means moving the animal from one spot to another, whether the movement be 2 inches or two miles.  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 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 actions 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 andRed fox with severe case of mange. Photo by Aaron Hildreth. uninfected locales. Like what happened with the Mid-Atlantic Rabies Outbreak during the 1990s. Mange, as shown in this red fox at right; photo by Aaron Hildreth, is also a concern.

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.

Bibliography of Relocation Studies

"Movement and Mortality Patterns of Translocated Urban-Suburban Gray Squirrels" It was conducted in the summers of 1994 and 1995, by Dr. Lowell Adams (Urban Wildlife Resources) and Dr. Vagn Flyger (University of Maryland - Emeritus).

The study was originally desinged to track 50 trapped and radio-collared squirrels, over a period of three years, but due to lack of funding, was terminated after the 1995 season.  They only trapped 20 squirrels and gave us data for only 7 of them.  Of the 7 squirrels they radio-collared in 1995, only one could be a confirmed mortality, while others disappeared from the study area rather quickly, only to emerge later at neighborhood bird feeders.I have the progress report and the summations if anyone desires to see Sean Carruth, Critter Control, Inc.

Toward a Professional Position on the Translocation of Problem Wildlife - Wildlife Society Bulletin 1998, 26(1):171-177.

Survival and Movements of Translocated Raccoons in Northcentral Illinois - Journal of Wildlife Management 63(1):278-286.

Skip Navigation Links