Whose scat is it?
As a trapper and hunter, you learn to identify wildlife excrement rather fast, as you’d want to. Why? To determine what kind of critters are in your area; for instance, seeing marten poop and tracks, after having closed all traps for the season, means that the marten will still be here come next trapping season. Everyone needs to be a good judge when seeing big piles of bear scat (maybe go back to where you came from when it’s still steamingly fresh). When you see “dog poop” but you know there’s no dog around for 200 miles, then it’s wolf poop. When this excrement contains hair, only then will you know that the wolf has eaten his scat, once more—maybe because there was no critter to hunt down for a while (there are other theories around about coprophagia). One theory is that your dog is trying to correct its malnourishment or pancreatic insufficiencies, or attempting to rebalance its gastrointestinal system.
When out trapping, you want to make sure your pet follows orders and knows not to go near traps (alas, one trapper told me he had his little mutt walk underneath snares)—that way a wolf might not notice the snare right in front of him.
One year, I was just outside the cabin, staring up at an owl perched on top of the tree, when I saw a shadow cross my vision. Turns out it was a big wolf. He wasn’t making a sound. Our dog was relaxing between two snowbanks, also more or less just outside the cabin (that’s when we put him inside). So this wolf proceeded to bound onto deep snow and ended up down at the lake. He would run, then stop where a bullet couldn’t reach him … How did he know? Then, later on, when checking the trail, we saw that another wolf went down to the lake before coming into camp. This sure told us that these wolves were very hungry—to strut into camp while humans were present! We were pretty sure they were after our dog, as males (our dog was a male) would pee everywhere and sniff and, of course, leave tracks. Dog poop is also an incentive for a wolf to come and investigate, due to their territories and especially if hunger is prevalent. So, if you are a trapper without a dog, assemble some fresh scat, if possible, from meat-fed dogs, then freeze it and use it next winter in appropriate areas … or maybe not?
As cute as they are, you won’t want squirrels “setting up shop” in your shop or cabin. Their droppings look like brown or black rice pellets. Squirrels eat your foamies (designed to be your mattresses) and bring in tree cones, eat them in the building and manufacture lovely nests out of them and your foamies. Therefore, the moment you notice squirrel poop (or mouse droppings), you’ll want to make your cabin squirrel-proof—especially if you’re not going to stay at the cabin, as happens with line cabins used for breaking trail or for overnight stays, here and there, while trapping.
When lynx have surplus food, they put it on a lump of grass and cover it with their droppings. There is a lynx lure that uses lynx droppings. It goes as follows:
- Take some lynx livers and let them rot in a jar all summer.
- Add some valerian, a small bit of powdered catnip and six drops of lynx urine.
- Throw in about five tablespoons of powdered lynx droppings and one finely chopped beaver castor, then mix well.
It’s always good to have disposable gloves, masks and garbage bags with you when coming up to fur-bearing wildlife, be it out in the bush or along the highway. Tapeworm larvae, found in wolf or dog poo, can’t cause sickness, but they can become living, harmful parasites within two days after a dump is dropped; therefore, the wolf might eat his poop to make sure to eliminate the larvae before they become a threat. Scientists describe this as an “evolved parasite defense strategy.” This supports the idea that some evolutionary cue is telling them to eat their number two before the larvae hatch. Even though present-day dog poo is usually parasite-free, it might just be your dog’s innate impulse left over from his ancestors’ “wolf days.” Or it could be that they learned it from their mom: nursing females lick their puppies in the perineal region, under the tail, which stimulates small secretions of urine and feces. These are immediately cleaned up by the mother. Mom won’t get sick, as puppy feces contain friendly bacteria. Hence, the mystery of your dog eating poop is solved (more or less)!
Humans are infected by inhaling or ingesting hydatid tapeworm eggs, which are usually passed on from the feces of dogs or wolves. It is advisable to have your dog’s parasites removed with medication, annually. Adult tapeworms produce eggs that are passed from the intestine of an infected carnivore. Deer, moose and caribou accidentally eat the eggs when consuming vegetation. Infected herbivore meat (moose meat, etc.) should be well-cooked. The cysts are most prevalent in the moose’s organs.
Through direct contact or when inhaling dust that has been contaminated with the feces of diseased wildlife that carry tularemia, pseudotuberculosis or listeriosis, symptoms may start as flu-like and end with blood poisoning. One can only find out when butchering, if one of the three diseases is present, the liver and spleen will look enlarged and will be covered with white spots. Those white spots are areas of dead cells killed by bacteria. The kidneys and lymph nodes in the back of the abdominal cavity, lungs and stomach might also show signs of spotting. The protozoan parasite Giardia are cysts that are deposited in water along with the feces of aquatic mammals such as the beaver and muskrat. Infection can also go the other way: aquatic mammals may be infected by human fecal matter that finds its way into the water.
Oh yeah, and when you go to Paradise Alley on Main Street, in Whitehorse, and are buying yourself some moose droppings, let me know how they taste!
Carry on and stay safe,
Sonja Seeber, Yukon Trapper