Another Look at the “Humane” Alternative

Thousands of squirrels call our city home. Sometimes we don’t think about our wild neighbours until there is a problem: a squabble over who gets the garden vegetables, or an uninvited tenant taking up residence in the roof. While squirrels are only trying to meet their basic food and shelter needs, these conflicts can be extremely frustrating for homeowners.

So why not trap the squirrels and move them somewhere else?

Contrary to popular belief, live-trapping a squirrel and relocating it is not a good way to solve any problem you might be having with the animal. While trapping may seem like a humane option, it often ends in a death sentence for the squirrel and leaves your property vulnerable to ongoing wildlife conflicts. Here’s why:

1. There’s no place like home

Many people think that a squirrel can survive anywhere. It may even appear that moving a squirrel from an urban backyard to a ravine, park, or forest will help it, since these spaces seem more “natural.” But the truth is, squirrels have specific home ranges where they are adapted to living.

An urban squirrel’s home range may be as small as one city block, and within that range they learn where to find food, water, shelter, and how to stay safe. A squirrel that’s spent its whole life living in an attic nest and foraging at birdfeeders isn’t going to stand a chance suddenly transported to a conservation area. Not to mention that there are probably already squirrels living in the new territory who won’t be too happy about having a new neighbor.

Trapping a squirrel and moving it to a new, unfamiliar location—even one that looks nice to us—is stressful and bewildering for the animal. Relocated squirrels almost never survive long in their new environment.

2. Babies get left behind

Most squirrel conflicts happen in the spring and late summer, when mother squirrels are looking for shelter and extra food to raise their babies. These babies are often quietly awaiting their mother’s return in attic or balcony nests. When a mother squirrel is trapped and moved, dependent babies are often left behind. Without their mother, they will die.

Toronto Wildlife Centre receives hundreds of calls a year about baby squirrels who have been “orphaned” because of someone trapping and relocating a nuisance squirrels. Sadly, we don’t have the resources to take care of all of them, and many are turned away.

Trapping and relocating a mother squirrel with her babies also doesn’t work. Because of the stress and terror caused by relocation, faced with an unfamiliar territory and no prospects of food or shelter, a mother squirrel will almost always abandon her babies at the new site.

3. Short-term fixes don’t work

There are no empty spaces in nature. If you get rid of one squirrel, it won’t be long until another animal finds that cozy den in your roof or delicious meal in your garden. More likely, you will do a lot of unnecessary work or pay a lot of money to an animal removal company with no long term results.

In fact, removing squirrels can sometimes even backfire and make the situation worse. Research has shown that squirrels will have larger litters in areas where there has been a lot of trapping in previous years since there is still plenty of food and shelter. New babies simply fill the gap left by the squirrels that have been trapped and relocated.

Conflicts with squirrels are best dealt with individually: what is the squirrel doing that’s bothering you, why is it doing it, and how do we get it to stop?