This story appeared in the 2021 summer issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener in response to the theme “Neighbors.”
Often when people think about neighbors, they think about the humans that live in the houses down the street. But as a wildlife biologist, I think about the wildlife neighbors that we have in our backyards.
I currently teach at a small state university in Middle Tennessee, and we have been monitoring wildlife on our campus using remote camera traps for the last 2 years. Interestingly, when we shifted to remote operations in March 2020, we noticed a drastic change in our camera-trap photos: We have many more wildlife neighbors on our campus than we think!
Prior to shutting down in March, the students monitoring the cameras would show me the list of animals they would record on the cameras, mainly feral cats, squirrels and the occasional raccoon. But once the campus became empty outside of a few groundskeeping folks, that list grew. Squirrels became skunks, cats became possums, and raccoons became coyotes. We even got a bobcat on one of the cameras we placed on our educational farm a little way from campus.
One of the more exciting parts about this little experiment monitoring who is in our backyards is the neighborly characteristics these mammals portrayed. On more than one occasion a coyote and raccoon were seen in the same shot, meaning they got along long enough to pose for the camera for a few minutes while finishing their dinners.
And it did not stop at our campus borders – many of my colleagues mentioned observing more wildlife in their personal backyards since the pandemic started. A family of foxes moved in next door to our ornithology professor’s house, to the delight of his children. I get excited when I hear these stories because living with wildlife is so important and learning that our day-to-day activities pre-March 2020 may have been impacting their lives is something to think about. And with this knowledge, we know of one good thing that came out of the pandemic: We learned more about our wildlife neighbors and how they sometimes get along.
Catherine Haase, Ph.D.