FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Whether it be cute and fuzzy, slimy and slithery, or big and hairy, Fort Leonard Wood is teeming with wildlife. As summer approaches, human encounters with animals are increasingly likely.
“Anyone who spends a nice summer day outdoors on Fort Leonard Wood has undoubtedly run into their fair share of mosquitoes, ticks, songbirds and squirrels,” said Eric Magoon, a police sergeant with the Directorate of Emergency Services Conservation Law Enforcement section. “There is a myriad of wildlife that call Fort Leonard Wood home, and also a diverse variety of reptiles and amphibians.”
Protecting wildlife is not just about hunting rules and regulations, or recycling; knowing how to live alongside wildlife also matters.
Sick or injured wildlife
While the first instinct when seeing an injured or sick animal may be to help, Magoon said it is better to leave those cases to the experts. Any injured wildlife should be reported to the Provost Marshal’s Office at 573.596.6141.
Trying to help could have consequences for both the human and the animal, Magoon said.
“It is important people do not attempt to handle or provide aid to wildlife,” he said. “While someone’s intentions may be purely out of concern, wildlife do not understand this, and there is a high probability that the wildlife will attempt to defend itself on top of the risk of transferring a (disease which can be transmitted to humans from animals).”
Seeing a young animal alone may also seem cause for concern to the well-meaning human, but there is usually no need for action, Magoon said.
“If the animal is impeding the flow of traffic or affecting military activities, the PMO should be notified,” he said. “If it is determined the animal may need to be relocated, the PMO will dispatch the game warden to relocate the wildlife. If not, the best thing to do is leave it alone and give it lots of space.”
Consequences of interference
It is important to remember that all wildlife is protected or managed, according to Magoon.
“Harassment of wildlife is a violation of the Missouri Wildlife Code and doing so may result in a citation being issued,” he said.
This includes native snakes, which are protected, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. The Missouri Wildlife Code treats snakes, lizards and most turtles as non-game, meaning there is no hunting season — killing or otherwise harassing snakes is unlawful.
Feeding wildlife is also dangerous for animals and humans alike. It can teach them to associate humans with food, Magoon said, which increases the likelihood of an attack or bite and spreading of diseases.
Bears on Fort Leonard Wood
According to the MDC, the black bear is the only bear found in Missouri, and one of the state’s largest and heaviest mammals. Most of them live south of Interstate 44, including in Pulaski County, but can be found further north from time to time. Bear sightings are not unprecedented on Fort Leonard Wood.
For those who do happen across a black bear on the installation, Magoon had some advice.
“If you are on foot, it is important not to run,” he said. “Make yourself look as big as possible by extending your arms and make lots of loud noises.”
The chances of a black bear encounter can be reduced by securing any food or trash that must be stored outdoors, Magoon said, and by making plenty of noise while recreating outdoors.
The MDC has asked that all black bear sightings be reported on their website.
The first step in protecting and conserving wildlife is education, and Magoon recommended taking some of the free classes and webinars offered by the MDC.
Magoon said the United States has the most unique and successful conservation program in the world, and that we are fortunate to live in a place where wildlife and wild places are recognized as the public resources they are — it takes effort on all parts to keep wild places enjoyable for generations to come.
“Without continued efforts and support from the public, this precious resource will be exploited and eventually cease to be,” Magoon said. “We have a duty to ensure that our wildlife and wild places are conserved, so they can continue to be utilized.”