A South Surrey resident was “furious” after finding out a barred owl, which lived in a treed area in her neighbourhood for a number of years, was killed by rat poison.
Senga Fullam contacted Peace Arch News this month to raise awareness about the unintended consequences to the environment when people set poison traps.
This month, Fullam learned that a female owl, that was living in the Ocean Park area, was recently killed after eating a rodent that had consumed rat poison. She contacted Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) and confirmed that not only was the deceased owl in the organization’s possession, but that she was ready to lay eggs.
“The male is still in the woods hooting, every day, every night,” Fullam said. “What he’s doing is he’s hooting for her.”
Rat poison doesn’t immediately kill pests. Instead, the animal gradually gets sicker and more disoriented until it succumbs. Poisoned rats make easy targets for birds of prey. A larger animal, such as an owl, that eats a poisoned rat can also become sick and die.
OWL raptor care supervisor Martina Versteeg said birds of prey inadvertently being poisoned by rat poison is a problem that is widespread.
Versteeg said OWL is still waiting for test results to confirm that the Ocean Park owl had died from poisoning, but its symptoms indicate that was the case.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Versteeg said, adding that a few years ago, OWL did a blood test study of its animals and found more than half of them had poison residue in their system.
“(Owls) that were getting hit by cars or came in with a broken wing, they had rat poison in their system, too. It could have made them a bit slower and more susceptible for other injuries,” Versteeg said.
Killing rats with poison is actually counterproductive to the desired goal, Versteeg said, adding that a single owl can kill up to 1,000 rodents per year, and that number can triple if the owl has young to feed.
“You’re just adding a problem to a problem. Whereas if you actually remove the attractants and remove the reasons (rats) are coming there, then you wouldn’t have this problem to begin with,” Versteeg said.
Fullam is encouraging Semiahmoo Peninsula residents to sign a petition to ban rodenticide use in B.C., which can be found at www.change.org/p/ban-rat-poisons-in-british-columbia. She’s also encouraging residents to find other ways to manage pests.
“You can get a snap trap, they work very effectively. You can get a live trap and take them to an area away from your house,” Fullam said. “There’s so many ways of dealing with rats. I think what happens is people don’t like snap traps because they have to deal with a dead animal. My thing is, if you’re going to kill an animal, then you have to be prepared to deal with it.”
Not only are poisoned rats an issue for wildlife, they can also cause harm to domestic animals or small children, Fullam added.
“Dogs, cats for sure, but even kids. If kids get the poison on them, you know little kids, they put their fingers in their mouths all of the time.”
The OWL website has an entire page dedicated to information on rat poison.
While removing attractants is the most effective way to deal with pests, OWL suggests mechanical traps, ultrasonic repellents, the A24 Automatic Rat and Mouse trap, or the use of a rodent exclusion company instead of an exterminator.
More information about pest control options can be found at https://www.owlrehab.org/dangers/rat-poison/