Creature Comforts

Author Jonathan Hanson thinks humans should take the time to interact with and enjoy wildlife

Jonathan Hanson knows more than your average bear about wildlife, and he's comfortable sharing that knowledge--along with some of his more controversial opinions.

The naturalist/writer has penned nearly a dozen books, but his latest, There's a Bobcat in My Backyard! Living With and Enjoying Urban Wildlife, is especially timely and topical.

"Peaceful co-existence is my basic thrust," he explains. "We should give animals a break whenever possible, and in the book, I try to stress getting along."

Noting that Arizona has 138 species of mammals, Hanson believes in interacting with them as much as possible.

"We should enjoy the animals we're blessed with in Southern Arizona," he says. "We should encourage today's youngsters to do the things we all used to do as kids--pick up pretty rocks and birds' nests and keep pollywogs 'til they turn into frogs and cocoons until they hatch into butterflies. There's a trend underway by people in the environmental community that I find disturbing, and that's the idea that humans and nature are separate, and never the twain shall meet."

Hanson--who co-authored the Southern Arizona Nature Almanac with his wife, Roseann--refutes the philosophy that human beings are bad for nature, that they can only do harm when they go into the wilderness and should "take only pictures--leave only footprints," as the motto goes. He also disputes the contention that people who fish and hunt responsibly should be looked down on.

"We should be a part of the human/animal cycle that has fueled life on Earth for the last 3 billion years," he says, "interacting with it on an honorable level, dealing with specific problems as they arise, and giving the animal populace as much of a break as we can."

His book covers a wide variety of local wildlife, from bobcats and packrats to scorpions and snakes, mountain lions and Gila monsters. Hanson writes: "We live in a place where interacting with nature is extremely easy. Despite continuing development, there's nowhere anyone lives in Tucson where you can't interact, on some level, with wildlife. Habitat is everywhere, from midtown alleys with a small patch of snakeweed to desert vegetation that attracts birds and butterflies."

We need to do more to attract that wildlife, he says, while acknowledging that his attitude "may prompt some serious challenges." However, "anything less is a huge mistake," he maintains.

Birds are the easiest and most popular critters to attract, and their arrival brings in lots of other creatures that want to share their food, water and even the birds themselves. Attracting larger animals is when the real problems begin.

"Javelina are the most problematic urban wildlife species," says Hanson. "They hate dogs and are defensive of their herds. When they get used to humans--and it doesn't take long--they can be extremely aggressive. Javelina are present because they get fed by humans, on purpose or accidentally, and there's good reason to believe part of the current mountain lion problem is because there's an augmented supply of javelina roaming our edge communities. Javelina are bad to have around, and the kindest thing you can do for them is to throw rocks, use mace or rubber bullets, but get rid of them."

Another animal that will be a problem, if trends continue, is the coyote.

"Historically," says Hanson, "coyotes are extremely shy around humans and are easy to scare off. That's changing, however, because people who live near the desert insist on treating them like cute dogs instead of wild animals. You should only be able to spot them on a hillside looking down on you from a distance, not trotting down your alley looking for house cats."

You'll have to buy the book to learn more about wildlife behavior and the author's suggestions on how to successfully incorporate it into our contemporary Tucson lifestyle, but here are some interesting factoids:

·Hummingbird hearts beat 10 times a second, and double that when the birds are in "vigorous courtship display"--about a million beats a day. "This metabolism, converted to human proportion," Hanson writes, "would require 150,000 calories daily, the equivalent of 25 chocolate cakes."

·The most ubiquitous reptile in Arizona cities is the tree lizard. Males of the species are often seen doing "push-ups" to establish territorial dominance.

·The Sonoran coral snake is shy and retiring, but venomous when it does strike. It will coil up with its head buried and its tail waving in the air as a defensive distraction. It also farts. "It's an additional defense that generates disbelief," writes Hanson. "They draw in and expel forcefully tiny bubbles of air, emitting a sound like a miniature version of, well, you know."

This single contribution--which could liven up your next trivia party--is worth the price of the book.

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