Blog: Positively Possum

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Positively Possum - Saturday, October 27, 2018
About a month ago, I started noticing animal droppings in the backyard in the gravel bed behind the house. It seemed like an animal had made our yard its latrine, so, trying to discourage this behavior, I cleaned up the poop and sprinkled chili powder on the gravel bed and even put chicken wire on top. This seemed to have a limited effect, as I found more poop there a couple days later, but then I also started finding poop in the other gravel bed on the side of the house as well as in random places around the yard.

I also noticed a small hole under the back fence and a hole under the shed. Every time I filled in these holes, I would find them opened up again the next day. So I reasoned that the animal was living under the shed and going out into the neighbor's yard at night.

Then one night, after hearing a noise outside, I went out with a flashlight and saw a skunk. Or at least what appeared to be a skunk at the time. It was caught on the other side of the house and kept pushing against the gate trying to get out. It did not attempt to climb the fence. This matched what I later read about skunks being good diggers but poor climbers. I didn't feel like getting sprayed, so I went back in the house and let the skunk disappear on its own.

I also read that skunks making their den on your property should be assumed to be raising baby skunks. So I sent a message to the county animal control, but after receiving no reply, I decided to enlist the help of a local company to trap the skunk. The guy came over and set a live trap and threw some food pellets inside, but the next morning, I found the trap sprung but no animal inside. So the guy came back and reset the trap and left a cup of food inside. The next morning, the cup was empty but the trap had not been sprung. It appeared that the animal was getting wise to what was going on.

Realizing that you need to be smarter than an animal in order to trap it, I took it upon myself to set a better trap, especially since the guy became increasingly nonspecific about when he could come over. I covered the bottom of the trap with dried grass and leaves and hung some Mandarin slices (from our tree in front) in a plastic bag and hung it in the rear of the cage. The idea, which I got from a forum post, was to make the animal work harder to get the food and let its guard down in the process. I was actually looking forward to catching something now; it had turned into a game of man vs animal. Well perhaps Mandarins weren't the most appealing bait or the bait looked too hard to reach, because it took four days for the trap to be sprung this time. But this time, I found a possum inside.

I discovered new poop in the gravel bed the same morning when I found the possum, and I did find one picture of possum poop online that resembled the kind that I was finding, so I found it plausible that the animal leaving poop in the yard and living under the shed was a possum all along. Possums are beneficial animals (for instance, they eat slugs, snails and cockroaches), so I didn't want to have it killed, but I didn't want this possum sticking around. California law says that if you do not release trapped animals on site, you're not allowed to relocate them. They have to be euthanized. I was really tempted to drive somewhere at night and release the possum, but I wasn't itching to break the law or have a wild animal in my trunk, so I decided to just have the guy come and take the possum away. It was $200 for the initial visit and $125 to remove the possum. Not cheap, but worth not having to pick up poop in the yard all the time.

The guy offered to set a new trap and I agreed. The new one had some sticky stuff smeared inside that had a strong odor, sure to get an animal's attention. It looked like Nutella but smelled way more pungent. Stuck to the rear wall of the trap were many food flakes; an animal would definitely need to walk in pretty far in order to eat any of it. It took another six days for an animal to be caught, and that animal turned out to be... another possum. But I didn't want to pay another $125 to have it removed, and I hadn't seen any new poop around the yard or evidence of digging underneath the shed, so I figured that this possum was just wandering through, possibly attracted to our yard by the smelly trap. So I decided to let it go and have the guy come back to take the trap away.

Things have remained ok - no more poop showing up. Priscilla notes that our problems began after I started an unenclosed compost pile in the backyard. The fact that I poured out the leftovers of fish porridge (with the fish removed, but still reeking of fish) one day probably exacerbated the problem. I've since stopped throwing food scraps in the backyard and have also been diligent about removing fallen pomegranates from the neighbor's tree that overhangs into our yard, which fall to the ground after squirrels start munching on them. So hopefully this will discourage animals from coming by regularly and making our yard their latrine.

I'm still pretty sure that I saw a skunk that night, though I could believe that it was actually the first possum. At any rate, I haven't seen a skunk since, and it does not appear that there are baby skunks (or baby possums) living under the shed. I don't know if the second possum will come back, having had a traumatic experience here. But if it does return, I would be glad for its visit. I'm just counting on it not getting too comfortable here.