Despite the recent and very welcome rains, we still are headed into a very serious drought. And while we may be focusing on how we're going to keep our lawns green and our vegetable garden producing in the face of water shortages and hefty fines, let's take a moment to consider the wildlife that already are suffering from the lack of water.

The Bay Area already is starting to see some of the issues as wildlife that had been content to hunt and live in the wilder areas are encroaching on development in search of water. Wildcare, a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center based in San Rafael, has been inundated with calls from people reporting problems and asking what they can do.

The recent rain is helping with the drought, but not solving the long term problems.
The recent rain is helping with the drought, but not solving the long term problems. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

Wildcare, as well as other Bay Area rescue groups, anticipate seeing more animals dying from emaciation and dehydration, as well as animals that have been injured territorial disputes as water, food and shelter become more scarce.

As the watering holes dry up, wild animals also will venture into neighborhoods where pet dishes, swimming pools and birdbaths will quench their thirsts. This puts them more at risk for being hit by cars and running afoul of dogs and those humans who don't want them any where near their yards.

The spring may also be a dark one if parents aren't able to provide food and water to their offspring and keep themselves healthy.

So what can we do to help? And what shouldn't we do?


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Even though conditions could be extreme, wildlife experts suggest we step back and take a hands-off approach. It feels coldhearted, but it is actually in the best interest of wildlife.

Putting out food or water will encourage wildlife to visit your yard, which increases their risks. It also can lead to an outbreak of disease as illnesses and parasites are easily spread.

Having more interaction with wildlife also causes them to lose some of their natural fear of humans. In return, they may become more aggressive, and that often leads humans to get a bit panicky and report the animals as acting oddly. This can be a death sentence for the animal.

You may attract predators. Feeding squirrels, raccoons and deer seems harmless enough, but now you've made your home a communal watering hole, and larger animals, such as mountain lions, will follow.

Lastly, providing the animals with food and water will lead to an increase in the population at a time when the environment can't support it, leading to more suffering. Nature is a balancing act, and it's unwise for us to upset that balance.

Wildlife experts recognize that people want to help. They say absolutely no food, but if you put out water, be sure to change the water daily and scrub the dish with a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach. Rinse thoroughly.

This advice is contrary to the norm of using vinegar and water to clean dishes, but the diluted bleach is recommend because of the threat of disease. The exception is hummingbird feeders. Use the vinegar solution on them.

It's perfectly fine to keep bird feeders and baths full, although if you see that other animals are using the bath as a water source, be sure to clean it as recommended.

I'd also ask everyone to have some tolerance. Keep a distance from any wildlife that visits your yard, and let it be.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read the "Animal Life" blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/pets.