Oh sure, you’re laughing now… but these fuzzy-tailed rodents ain’t playing.
Experts are calling this bizarre invasion a potential threat to humans and many other species — not to mention the balance of ecosystems in California and other states. It’s also why authorities post all those “DO NOT FEED WILDLIFE” signs in public parks, trails and playgrounds.
One of the worst cases of this is underway on the beaches of San Diego, according to a new report in the Los Angeles Times. It references warnings from park rangers in the area, who have seen a major increase in reports of seemingly fearless ground squirrels ganging up on humans, expecting food handouts from them.
“The main problem is they get tons of food from people,” says Darren Smith of California’s Department of Parks and Recreation, “and that’s what makes the population grow so much.”
Smith points out that it’s not just bad for the animals, who lose the ability to find food on their own, but is becoming hazardous for humans as well: the normally timid rodents are losing all fear of humans… and they’ll even attack them to get what they want.
“Sometimes they bite people, and steal their Doritos,” he said.
In addition to the health risks from bites, squirrels are also adding to erosion problems in the area from the increased number of burrows in dry, dusty soil.
Attempts to control the booming squirrel population have been ineffective, and often carry their own dangers: city and state pest controllers have tried poisoning the animals, but those in turn have been ingested by other wildlife or pets, passing poison up the food chain.
Smith told the LA Times an “integrated program” is necessary to keep squirrel populations from growing out of control — this would involve a combination of methods, mostly restricting the animals’ access to human food. People would not only need to stop feeding squirrels, Smith says, but keep their garbage under control so the critters can’t raid it.
He cites Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve as a good example: the park bans all food and trash within its borders, and the squirrel population there is under control.