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Co Existing with Nature - May 1, 2016

The Maryland Coastal Bays covers over 189,000 acres of land, 71,000 acres of water, 248 miles of shoreline and nearly 35,000 acres of wetlands. Living within its boundaries is a variety of wildlife, including 360 different types of birds, as well as more than 108 rare, endangered and threaten species.

Within this diverse eco system is Maryland’s beloved resort, Ocean City, a ten- mile barrier island that supports a year round estimated human population of 8,000 and an influx of visitors that can increase the human population to over 350,000 a week during peak season.

Pristine beaches, versatile dining, nighttime entertainment and the fact the resort is located within close proximity of four major cities are some of the many reasons for the human influx during prime season.

This influx is great for the economy, but sadly, has an adverse impact on other species that inhabit the resort area. Aside from habitat loss, there are native species that many visitors and residents do not appreciate nor desire to cohabitate with on our wonderful barrier island and would like nothing better than to see them eradicated.

The more the season swings into action, the more Ocean City animal control officers receive calls from raccoon sightings, bats on hotel balconies, opossums in the bushes to seagulls sitting on beach towels as like our visitors, they are emerging to enjoy their environment as well.

These species have adapted to habitat change by our doing, but unfortunately are feared and loathed by many. Hopefully, through education and outreach like these columns, a better understanding of common species we share this island with, their behavior patterns and their benefit, maybe people will come to appreciate them and be more willing to coexist with these residents whose ancestors may have inhabited this resort far longer than when Captain Thomas Fenwick purchased it from the Native Americans. I can’t cover all our local species in one article so this is part one of a several more to come.

Foxes, they are common on the island. Many build their dens in the fenced in sand dunes nestled on the beaches that were built to protect the beach and fenced to deter human traffic. Their diet includes sea gulls, rodents, raccoons and (yes, this makes me sad) feral cats. They can carry rabies and always call animal control if you see one acting odd so they can access its health. Fox sightings on the beach are very common and nothing is more entertaining than kits (baby foxes) tumbling on the beach. Just because you see a fox in broad daylight doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy or rabid, it may have been disturbed unnecessarily or, it may be a juvenile (which often look like an adult). They are naive and very curious. They are not out to hurt you or your dog or cat, they, like many juveniles this year, are just trying to figure out their role on the island. Unfortunately, this innocent behavior gets them in a lot trouble with humans.

Opossums or as I call them, possums, are truly one of my favorites. They get such a bad rap and are feared by many. Here’s a good tidbit for you, they are one of the most docile wild natives. Yes, if cornered they will hiss and growl, but if you think they will attack you, nope, Goggle it, fearsome is their bark yet they’ll try to play dead before they would bite you, unless of course you try to pick them up. Their immune system is amazing. The probability of rabies in this mammal is far less than your dog with its up to date rabies shot. They have razor sharp teeth and prefer to use them on small rodents, yep, mice and whoa, snakes and insects. They are also scavengers, so they are good at cleaning up trash reckless folks toss into the environment.  You have an issue with them? Well, they totally have an issue with you. They would prefer to never, ever see or encounter any human, or for that matter any other mammal including your dog or cat.  They provide a great service in keeping vermin to a manageable balance. And a little trivia fact about possums, like us, each have their own unique fingerprint; but, theirs is located at the tip of their tail.

Raccoons are truly a force to be reckoned as they area actually smaller relatives to bears. They are very mischievous as they have adapted to human development and take advantage of their surroundings. It’s not uncommon for a raccoon to sneak under an outside table at a restaurant grab discarded food and run-never to be seen by the patrons at the table. Our bad habits attract them to interact with us and that’s where they get in trouble. They are one of the more common carriers of rabies so it’s good that people fear them; but unfortunately, when youth are found, some try to take them in as pets, which is not only illegal, but can have bad results for both parties. Raccoons have a balance to our environment; they are scavengers and like possums, eat vermin. And like foxes, juveniles are very curious. It’s not uncommon for a juvenile to try to interact with humans and our pets as again, as a youth they are trying to understand their place. Last year there was a young adult that thought it was good fun to hide in a condo stairwell and jump out to unsuspecting patrons and then run away. As you can imagine, that behavior didn’t bode well for the critter nor the condo owners. Sadly, this raccoon was just trying to co exist with humans in its environment.

Wildlife plays an important part in the environmental balance of Ocean City. Live and let live, should you have any issues or concerns involving wildlife, call Ocean City’s animal control. They are trained professionals and have answers and experience to protect both humans and wildlife in our resort. Next column I’ll cover the adventure of owls and  seagulls co existing in Ocean City.

 

Smith is the Marketing & Development Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, your tax deductible donations make it possible for us to continue our work of protecting the Coastal Bays.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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