Stray wildlife survives on campus, officials responding positively
Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
After a dry summer, students will pour through the UTEP campus this fall semester. At night the pace will slow down, but students will not be the only creatures roaming the campus.
“I was making my way out of the library one night when I crossed paths with a skunk,” said Serenity Garcia, senior linguistics major. “It stopped and stared in my direction and then we both continued on our paths.”
The UTEP campus sits on the foothills of the Franklin Mountains, which is native ground to different species of wildlife. There have been numerous reports of creatures wandering around the UTEP area.
“Typically there are a lot of calls regarding skunks and cats roaming on campus,” said Emilio Rodriguez, director of the Environmental Health and Safety Department, who deals with the reports of wildlife on campus.
Reports are made by students and staff that encounter the animals. The department responds to each call but usually leaves the wildlife alone unless it has become an issue or is posing a threat.
The creatures that are very well known in the UTEP campus are the feral cats.
When reports of cats start to become an issue the department follows a procedure. Collaborating with the El Paso Veterinary Medical Association, UTEP sets up cages to catch feral cats, which are then taken and spayed or neutered, then are released back in the area. Cats that have been spayed or neutered have their ear clipped.
“By spaying or neutering the cats, our goal is to stop the population from growing,” Rodriguez said.
Christina Smith, a nursing student agrees with the approach UTEP takes regarding the feral cats.
“They live a harsh life, banned and struggling for survival, all feral cats should be neutered,” she said.
This past spring the department of Environmental Health and Safety collaborated with facilities services to address a skunk issue.
“The skunks were burrowing between the wall and basement of the library building,” Rodriguez said. “We put in a one way door in the hole so the skunks that had crawled in could come out but could not go back in.”
The trap door was in place for about a week and once all the skunks were captured they were released back to the wild away from campus. Facilities services fixed the landscape around the area to prevent future burrowing.
Jose Leyva, junior anthropology major, believes the university took appropriate action and handled the situation accordingly. “They are wild animals but there is no need to exterminate them, placing them somewhere else away from the university was just fine.”
Skunks rarely leave their den until the evening, which is why all sightings have been reported during the dark hours.
Barbara Bailey, part-time curator of the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens at the Centennial Museum spends most of her mornings out in the garden weeding, pruning or watering the plants, but some mornings she has to fill up holes that were dug up overnight.
“Skunks are notorious for digging holes in the garden. They are either looking for water, insects or trying to reach the roots,” Bailey said.
The green living organisms at the garden seem to attract the wildlife. Bailey has also seen foxes around there.
“I saw it as it was making its way past the gardens. At first I thought it was a skinny cat with a long furry tail and a pointed nose,” she said.
Arthur Harris, past director of the Laboratory of Environmental Biology and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, said the hills west and north of campus as well as the arroyo are ideal for wildlife habitat primarily because of the undeveloped area.
“There are boulders that make great dens. During the spring, a pair of foxes had their litters in a pile of boulders around the Sun Bowl area,” Harris said.
There have not been any reports on the foxes. Rodriguez said it must be because foxes typically do not go around people.
Other reports filed with the department have been concerning bats in the Memorial Gym and swarms of bees in the new Chemistry and Computer Science Building. In both of these incidents professionals were called to handle the issue.
“Wildlife is out there, occupying the same space we are,” Rodriguez said. “If a student or staff member crosses paths with any wild animal, do not feed it or pet it, leave it alone and report it.”
Guerrero Garcia may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.