The summer months in Riverside County usually mean residents see an increase in a variety of wild critters who make their way into local neighborhoods in search of food, water and shelter.
The proximity of the great outdoors to many Southwest Riverside communities makes it easy for wildlife to wander into suburbia on scavenger hunts.
“This time of year we get a lot of calls regarding wild animals and critters, especially rattlesnakes,” Riverside County Animal Services spokesperson John Welsh explained. “Many times it’s a gopher or garter snake, but it’s always best to call us if you aren’t sure.”
He added that an employee of the Riverside County Animal Services is a poisonous snake specialist who travels the globe studying venomous snakes.
“She holds workshops for other animal services officers on how to safely handle venomous snakes,” Welsh said.
Animal services officials advise the best thing to do if you see a non-venomous snake is to either try and scoot it away with a long tool, like a broom, or call the proper officials.
“Our officers have had to remove rattlesnakes from inside houses,” Welsh said.
Another animal that seems to hover around homes in significant numbers is the urban coyote.
“We had a very dry winter which means less grass on the hills, which means less bunny rabbits for the coyotes to eat,” Welsh said. “Coyotes will sneak into more populated areas in search of morsels to eat.”
Coyotes are well-known for their cunning nature which makes trapping them a difficult task, unlike capturing other pesky critters.
“Our dog was eaten by a coyote that jumped over our fence during the middle of the day,” Temecula resident Michelle Welsh said. ”We heard a noise and looked outside and watched as the coyote hopped over our fence with our dog in its mouth.”
Welsh said the third most common call Animal Service receives is regarding opossums.
“Again, anyone who leaves food outside is bound to get nocturnal creatures in search of an easy bite to eat under the cover of darkness,” he added. “If you look around, our region sits close to hilly areas, open wilderness and for many residents, the Santa Ana River trail.”
He said when in doubt, call for help.
One of the most bizarre calls Riverside County Animal Services has responded to happened in 2010 when a 15-foot Burmese python was retrieved from Lake Mathews. The slithering snake was nicknamed “The Monster of Lake Mathews,” according to the Riverside County Animal Services website.
In that case, it appeared that the snake’s owner had abandoned it in the lake. Animal Services officials captured and then fostered the snake until it was relocated.
Officials advise the most important thing people can do to prevent dangerous run-ins with wildlife in urban and even not-so-urban areas is to keep pet food indoors at night.
“We cannot stress enough the importance of keeping things wild animals would want to eat indoors,” Welsh said.
Stephanie D. Schulte is a writer/photographer with SWRNN. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.