By spending more than 30 years as a wildlife biologist here in Northeast Georgia, I learned a few things about wildlife and their movements.
Sometimes you don’t even have to set foot in the woods to figure out what is happening there. This time of year, I can tell by riding down the highway, even with my eyes closed.
Guess what? It is striped skunk breeding season right now!
Those black and white flat furry spots all over the roads don’t lie, skunks move more during breeding season, they cross more roads and they get run over more often.
How is that for putting two and two together.
Throw that in with high skunk populations right now and you also have part of the reason for a high incidence of rabies in Hall and its surrounding counties recently.
Skunks and raccoons are the two most common carriers of rabies and both populations are high.
By the way, it is also raccoon breeding season right now and into March; you can tell that by flat furry ring-tailed spots on roads too.
Numbers of these animals used to be controlled by hunting and trapping but now, for the most part, these are long lost activities in such a civilized world where animal fur is worthless.
Instead their populations are now controlled by diseases including rabies, distemper, parvovirus, tularemia, leptospirosis and others.
Meanwhile, incidence of nest destruction of ground nesting birds such as quail, wild turkeys and several songbirds by skunks, raccoons and opossums have greatly increased.
These nest predators either run the hen off her nest or kill her and gobble up all the eggs. Most of the time, they do more damage than coyotes.
By the way, rabies in opossums is extremely rare; they are highly resistant to it. Oh yeah, it is opossum breeding season now too as evidenced by all the flat furry opossums on the roads.
A friend of mine did a radio telemetry study back in the early 1970s and soon found out the leading cause of mortality in opossums was what he called the “B.F. Goodrich Syndrome”. I’m sure that conclusion still applies today. It is certainly a complex web of survival and death for these small furbearers/predators/scavengers especially with speeding vehicles thrown in the mix.
We are also on the verge of spring greenup, when grasses along highways begin to grow and deer begin feeding on it.
I have recently been to South Georgia and South Carolina, it is already happening there. Deer road kills spike in March every year.
Deer movements slowed by cold weather, increase again during this greenup as they try to regain lost body weight by eating new plant growth full of protein. Next to the November rutting season, spring greenup is No. 2 road kill season for deer. Annual estimates peg deer road kills at 30,000 to 50,000 a year in Georgia alone.
Deer populations are controlled by hunters, not vehicles or diseases, thank goodness!
Annual deer harvests in Georgia average around 300,000 to 350,000 per year, 10 times higher than deer road kills.
Regulated hunting is the only way to control deer populations on a large scale, other methods including road kills are a disaster.
If we ever let deer populations get out of control like those of skunks, raccoons and opossums we are all sunk and so are the animals, whether they die a slow painful death from diseases or a quick death from a vehicle.
Meanwhile, we all face occasional danger from hitting a deer on the highway or encountering a rabid animal.
Be careful out there.
Kent Kammermeyer is a certified wildlife biologist. His column appears monthly.