There’s been a lot of panic – especially in in southern Maine – about rabies this summer. Much of the worry was driven by rabid fox attacks on seven people in Brunswick.
“Some folks are really scared,” said Brunswick Animal Control Officer Heidi Nelson, “and rightfully so, to some degree,” in a Times Record story. It’s that last phrase that I’ll tackle today.
In northern Maine, the U.S. Department of Agriculture distributed more than 351,000 doses of oral rabies vaccine bait, an initiative to reduce the occurrence of raccoon rabies. And even though most of the rabies cases are in southern and central Maine, the rabies vaccine bait project would not work there.
“It would not be cost-effective or practical to manage rabies in small isolated areas because there is rabies pressure in surrounding populations,” said Tanya Espinso, USDA spokeswoman. The USDA hopes to eliminate raccoon rabies over the next 30 years although they are still learning about the oral vaccination, wildlife populations, and ecology.
In Brunswick a 72-year-old lady now carries a bat to the mailbox where she was attacked in June by a rabid fox. I can’t really blame her.
Scott Lindsay, a DIFW regional biologist, said “rabies occurrences have been tracked for many decades now, and I think what is always revealed is that it is cyclic and it is not unusual to see occurrences in a particular area rise, then subside.”
Scott noted that the small animals most prone to rabies: raccoons, foxes, skunks and bats, have learned to live often undetected near humans and do well in developed areas.
And that’s where I have to start. Please don’t lose the excitement of seeing one of Maine’s wild critters, even if it is in your yard. We once had a fox that would come up on the deck next to our front door and lay on the bench there. One day we drove into the driveway and the fox was up there snoozing. And it was a beautiful creature.
This year we’ve had everything from snapping turtles to skunks in our yard. Okay, Linda wasn’t too happy to see the skunk! Throughout the year we’ll see almost every wild critter around our house, including lots of deer, some with really cute fawns. And because we live along a stream we’ll also see stream critters including beaver, muskrats, and ermine.
Years ago, we did have an encounter with a rabid fox. I was not at home when Linda saw the fox acting strangely in our driveway. It walked past our dog, which was on the chain, and entered our garage. Linda called the local game warden who came right over and shot the fox. It was sent to the lab and turned out to be rabid. We had to quarantine the dog for a while in case it had come in contact with the fox.
But you need not be concerned unless that wild critter you are looking at is acting strangely. I know, for folks who are not familiar with wild critters, that may be difficult. The best thing you can do is call your local police department, if you have one, or local game warden if you don’t. And never approach a wild animal, even if it appears normal. Okay I don’t always follow that rule!
I’ve had my own encounters with wild critters, including an ermine that ran up my leg and stopped on my chest, and a skunk that blasted me right in the face. I’ve written about those unfortunate experiences before, including in my books.
But I still love all wild critters and enjoy seeing them. I hope you do too.