Not So Wild about the Wildlife: The Varmint Vendetta

by Tom Spencer/ Soul of the Garden


(This is an abridged version of the Varmint Vendetta entries from 'The Daily Muse')

Beware of setting traps, you can never be sure just what you'll catch...

Earlier this year we completed the centerpiece of our new garden, our pond. Overnight, it became the focus of our attention and our passion. Its rock-lined walls reminded me of an ancient well, and its waterfall soothed our souls. We filled it with exotic looking goldfish and beautiful lilies. All was bliss, at least until it started raining raccoons.

I had been warned that the neighborhood wildlife would flock to our pond, treating it like a dive-in cafeteria. But, I didn't listen. And, now, when I went out for my morning mediation by the waterfall, I was appalled by the carnage. Missing fish, overturned plants, cloudy water, and lots of muddy footprints. Bliss was not achieved.

Our first reaction was to try an old trick - we lined the pond with habanero chile powder. We weren't messing around, this wasn't the "hot-foot," but rather the "scorched-foot." Let them stick their little opposable thumbs into this stuff and they'll never be back!

A night or two passed without any signs of trespassers. We were confident that the nuclear powered powder had done the trick. Or, so we thought. On the third night a raccoon decided that pepper-be-damned, he was going fishing and made a terrible mess. The morning after this violation of our sacred pool, I was relieved to see that our fish had survived, but quite upset about the fact that the raccoon had eaten all of the flower buds off our lilies. This was getting personal. That very day I purchased a trap, determined to catch the transgressor and deport him to the sticks.

After taking great care to be sure the trap was properly set, I went to bed knowing that he would be mine. At about two in the morning, I woke up and remembered the trap. Much to my surprise, my partner, Victor spoke up and said, "Don't bother looking." I asked if we had captured something and he said, "Yes, it is black and white and has a fluffy tail."

I was horrified. I fell back into bed and had nightmares about skunks running amok in our house. When I woke up I looked outside, and sure enough, there was Pepe, scratching around the edge of the cage, trying to dig his way out. Victor woke up shortly after I did, and I had already devised several plans for getting the skunk out of the cage, one of which involved laying down a line of defensive fire with a water hose as we approached. Victor was, shall we say, skeptical.

Plan A, involved approaching the cage holding a large tarp up in front of us. We slowly walked up to the cage and draped the tarp over it. So far so good- no spraying sounds, no horrible odors. The problem we now faced was opening the trap. Unfortunately, the model that I had purchased could not be opened easily and would not stay open unless we uncovered the cage to latch the door. This was not going to happen. So, we improvised a Rube-Goldberg like way of opening the door, propping it up with bamboo canes. A few moments later Pepe was on his way, scooting under the fence in record time.

The next day, we "marked" our yard using a concentrate of predator urine. Yes, it is very nasty, and no, we did not "harvest" it ourselves. This stuff is commercially available, believe it or not, and is used to ward off varmints. We scattered it around and, at the advice of a friend, moved the cage onto our deck where the skunk was less likely to wander. No such luck- I didn't set the trap high enough off the ground and Pepe returned. This time, releasing him seemed routine. In fact, when we found him he was sleeping, contentedly waiting for his release. At this point, we decided that we had had enough trapping adventures for one week and fell back to our defensive line of habanero and predator urine.


Again, no such luck. The return of the raccoon was devastating, his march across our pond marked by his wet footpints in the chile powder. Every plant was smashed, every flower eaten or chewed up. To make matters worse, once the raccoon realized it was covered in chile, it climbed one of our young trees and used the tender vegetation as "handy wipes" in a desperate attempt to rid itself of the powder.

So, once again, into the breach...

Last night, I built a table of plywood and cinder blocks and set the trap on it. I felt certain that this time it was too high for Pepe but easily accessible for the raccoons. This morning, I am proud to announce the first victory in our varmint vendetta. We captured a very large male raccoon and have banished him to parts unknown. Don't feel too sorry for Enrique, we released him in a rural location near water with lots of natural cover. Join us in wishing him well in his new home far from our "well."

A friend has warned me that trapping raccoons is like trying to bail out the ocean, the only certainty is their return. That may be so, but for the moment, we are flush with victory and it feels so good.


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