BANFF – Businesses and residents are being urged to keep wildlife in mind when decorating homes for the holidays.
Parks Canada has come up with a few simple guidelines to help prevent elk or deer from becoming entangled in Christmas lights and decorations, which can lead to strangulation and death in the most serious of cases.
Wildlife experts suggest a delay of putting up outdoor lights and decorations until after Nov. 30 when deer breeding season is mostly over, or ensure lights are hung at least 10 feet off the ground or secured tightly if strung up lower than that.
“We typically get at least a couple of entanglements each season with deer running around with lights on their head,” said Eric Knight, a human-wildlife coexistence specialist with Banff National Park.
“If the animal is lucky, it’s just a nuisance and doesn’t impede its movement and health, but some of these entanglements can be more serious and have a much worse outcome for the animal.”
Last fall, a bull elk had Christmas lights caught up in its antlers and a week later a mule deer was seen in a residential yard with festive lights entangled in its antlers.
Banff’s wildlife crew caught and immobilized both animals in order to get the Christmas lights off. Both animals were able to recover relatively quickly and escape with no injuries.
During the breeding season, male elk and deer are more aggressive and animated, rubbing against trees, marking their territories and showing dominance.
Knight said that can lead to entanglements if there are loose hanging decorations or lighting on trees.
Beyond the tangled mess of lights in antlers, Knight said a string of lights can get wrapped up around an animal’s neck and seriously cut the animal or lead to strangulation.
“In some cases, the animals will have several metres worth of cordage trailing behind them, and as they move across the landscape that can get caught up in vegetation to the point where it can impede the animal’s movement, even causing an entrapment,” he said.
“The worst-case scenario is if the animal is in a spot where it is not highly visible to the public and that animal could die a very slow, poor death unable to move from its location due to the entanglement.”
On occasion, Banff National Park’s wildlife team gets a report and the animal can be chemically immobilized so the lights can be safely removed.
But Knight said that doesn’t come without risk to both the animal and staff.
“Prevention is the key to foster co-existence between people and wildlife,” he said. “Everyone has a responsibility and a role to play.”
With that in mind, there are ways residents and businesses can help keep wildlife safe this holiday season.
Parks Canada suggests residents do a walk-through of their property to look for any potential wildlife entanglement hazards.
“It’s not just holiday lights. We’ve seen animals entangled in hammocks, rope, wire, drift fencing, tarps, tomato trellis,” said Knight.
“There’s deer and coyotes that have had buckets on their heads, so it can be all sorts of different things that can pose entanglement concerns and hazards.”
In addition, Parks Canada recommends putting timers on Christmas lights from an energy conservation perspective.
“If you limit the lights on a time-period to dusk then you’re also not going to be interfering with nocturnal species like owls,” said Knight.
Parks asks sightings of wildlife entanglements be reported to Banff dispatch immediately at 403-762-1470