- Add another problem to parched lawns, stunted crops and
water restrictions: Drought is driving wild critters into the suburbs.
- Snakes are slithering in North Carolina. Bighorn sheep
are munching lawns in California. Ducks are dousing themselves in swimming
pools in the Midwest. Did we mention the rats in the mansions of Beverly
- If the rich ''are different from you and me,'' as F.
Scott Fitzgerald wrote, does that mean their rats are, too? ''Maybe they
have a better diet, but they're really just your average rat,'' says Guy
Duplantier, owner of Good Guys Exterminators in Long Beach, Calif. ''They're
not uppity or anything. It's not like they realize they're in Beverly Hills.''
- About two-thirds of the nation is gripped by drought
or unusual dryness. Some experts say the increased animal sightings are
due to scarce water and the resulting shortage of natural food sources
such as plants, berries and insects. Development, widespread fires and
wildlife management policies also play a role.
- ''By necessity, animals begin to wander farther, showing
up in places you wouldn't normally expect them,'' says Doug Inkley, senior
scientist with the National Wildlife Federation. ''The drought is indeed
- Stressed, too, are ''suburbus sapiens,'' or humans unused
to the wild world. Just ask Kevin Clark, president of Critter Control,
a nuisance-animal removal company based in Traverse City, Mich. If a coyote
is stalking the family's Chihuahua, or ducks are turning the swimming pool
into a septic tank, chances are one of the national chain's 116 franchises
will get a call.
- Business is up about 20% this year, Clark says. But some
nuisance calls actually drop in dry weather. For example, lawn-destroying
moles move deep underground. The burrowers are still searching for moisture-loving
grubs and worms, but surface signs are minimized.
- Bill Clay, deputy administrator of the U.S. Agriculture
Department's Wildlife Services, isn't convinced animals are peskier because
of the drought. Calls to his department dropped 10% last year -- to 52,483
-- according to the latest numbers available. There were drought conditions
- ''Regardless of a drought or not, wildlife causes significant
damage in urban and rural areas, and the urban people are getting their
share of it,'' Clay says.
- He estimates the national damage toll from these unwelcome
animals is $22 billion a year.
- News accounts are rife with critter encounters:
- * In the affluent suburbs of Los Angeles, calls complaining
about rats are up 20%, exterminators say. The creatures aren't newcomers
to ritzy neighborhoods such as Beverly Hills, but they normally stay hidden
in dense foliage. In recent weeks, six restaurants along Third Street Promenade,
a pedestrian-only street filled with shops and clubs in Santa Monica, closed
temporarily because of rat infestations.
- * Bears have been sighted in suburbs nationwide. In Banning,
Calif., a couple encountered one of the creatures in their maple tree.
It was holding a partly filled juice bottle it had dragged from the trash.
- * The Carolinas Poison Center reports an 18% increase
in snakebites in North Carolina this year over last, up to 104 from 88.
- John Proctor, 6, was bitten in Raleigh during July Fourth
festivities, most likely by a copperhead. He spent a day in intensive care
and was unable to walk for several more days, police said. The youngster
recovered, and no fatal bites have occurred.
- Experts say sightings are far more common of non-venomous
snakes than of poisonous species.
- Says Eric Stine, a herpetologist at the Nature Museum
in Charlotte: ''You've still got a lot more to worry about from your neighbor's
Rottweiler than you do from a snake, no matter where you live.''
- Copyright © 2002 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett