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Predatory animals just a part of life in Northeast Georgia
Watch your pets: Bears, bobcats, owls and coyotes make frequent forays into civilized areas
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Bears, bobcats, coyotes — if you live in Northeast Georgia, these critters are probably your neighbors whether you know it or not.

Recent bear cub sightings in Gainesville and Forsyth County are a reminder that people share their land with all sorts of wild animals.

"Certainly bears making forays into Gainesville and Cumming and other parts of the urban Atlanta area is nothing new," said Ken Riddleberger, Department of Natural Resources' Northeast Georgia regional supervisor for game management.

He said young male bears typically wander out of their traditional habitat and into urban areas when they are looking to establish their territory.

"Probably over the last 10 years, our bear population has increased, probably more than doubled," Riddleberger said. "As the population of people increases, and those bears attempt to find territories to occupy, the range of the bear in Georgia extends well into Hall, Forsyth County, Dawson County ... it's creeping south."

Riddleberger said he believes there are bears living throughout Northeast Georgia, north of Interstate 85, all year round.

"Our numbers of nuisance complaints goes up every single year," Riddleberger said. "As we get more and more people moving into the mountains and more and more bears, the interface between bears and people is just more common."

But bears aren't the only thing people spot in this area. Coyotes, foxes, bobcats and great horned owls are common predatory animals that, when spotted, tend to make people uneasy.

These animals almost always stay away from humans, but if they are hungry, they will take advantage of the opportunity for a quick meal if there is open garbage or a small pet nearby.

"The primary prey of a great horned owl is a striped or spotted skunk, and that is not very different from somebody's cat," Riddleberger said. "We see it very infrequently because typically they are not going to be focused on people's pets. That's going to be an opportunistic thing or an animal that has not had a lot of luck hunting and is extremely hungry.

"But we get enough calls from people who have pets attacked by predators that I want to warn people not to put their pet out unattended. You're just taking a chance if you do that."

But Riddleberger said spotting a wild animal nearby is no reason to be concerned.

"Having wildlife enriches everybody's life," Riddleberger said. "The problem comes in when an animal does something unexpected and causes them damage or hurt.

"We just have to be aware that they are there and we can live with them."

Hall County Animal Control Director Mike Ledford said he gets a number of calls from people who think they have seen smaller animals like raccoons or skunks that may be rabid.

"Ever since we had the big spike (in rabies cases) a couple years ago, a lot more people are aware of the rabies threat," Ledford said. "We want those calls so we can get control of them before they get in contact with somebody or a dog or a cat."

He said in the last six to eight months, there have been a number of calls from people who have seen coyotes. None have reported any nuisance from the animals though.

"They're just like everything else, they're just trying to survive," Ledford said.

There have also been sightings of animals that have no business living in this area.

"If you can think of it, we pretty much get called on it," Ledford said.

In the last year or so, Ledford said animal control has responded to a few calls about large exotic constrictor snakes. He said he believes the animals were originally purchased as pets.

"I don't know if people turn them loose or they get loose, but that's when we end up dealing with them," Ledford said.

He said they even get calls about exotic birds such as emus and ostriches from time to time.

"They used to be really bad five or six years ago. I guess the market for buying those has dropped off," Ledford said.

In 2008, the Department of Natural Resources captured a 3-foot long alligator in Lake Lanier. The most likely story for the gator is that someone released him into the water after realizing he was too big to be a pet.

Riddleberger said as long as people have exotic pets, there is a chance that they will escape - making it possible to see just about anything roaming in Georgia.

"There is quite a black market for exotic animals," Riddleberger said.

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