Love them ... but leave them - JSC wildlife

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Johnson Space Center is not only a hub for human space exploration, science, technology and research that reaches for the stars but a haven for many types of wild animals. Among some of the best known are deer, ducks, squirrels and hawks.

“Wildlife was here long before JSC was ever built,” said Merrell Skipper, from Bay Area Wildlife Rehabilitation (BAWR). “Because of the size of JSC, the wide open space and natural settings, JSC is an excellent habitat. Also, with the growing population causing habitat destruction, animals will adapt to its surroundings.”

How can people help preserve and keep our wildlife safe and healthy? Skipper explained the best thing people can do is not interfere and learn to co-exist peacefully with wildlife. JSC team members should not feed or try to handle wildlife.

“Keep your distance and don’t intervene unless the animal is orphaned or injured,” Skipper said. “Wild animals are unpredictable, and have existed and thrived without our help.”

Feeding the animals is not a good idea. This makes them dependent and unafraid of people. Feeding wildlife the wrong foods can cause disease, such as metabolic bone disease, and other genetic issues. Wild animals are unpredictable and can attack without warning. Another concern is that there are several known diseases that people can contract from wildlife. Examples include rabies, ringworm, impetigo, coccidioidomycosis, toxoplasmosis, giardia and cryptosporidium, to name a few. With the exception of rabies, most diseases are preventable simply by practicing good hygiene. People with compromised immune systems and children are at a higher risk.

Baby animals

In regards to baby animals, one thing’s for sure - keep your distance. Do not try to pet them. Stay calm and quiet, and avoid lingering around them. Move slowly, and get out of the area, especially if the mother is around. “Wild animals look at us as predators, and we can put them and ourselves in harmful situations if we get too close,” Skipper said. “Wild animals get very stressed around humans, which cause a number of health issues. Shock, rapid heartbeat and stress leads to diarrhea, which causes dehydration; fear can lead to aggression, just to name a few.”

What do to if an animal is injured or in apparent distress

For injured wildlife, the best thing to do is contact a game warden or a wildlife rehabilitator. There is a list of area game wardens and wildlife rehabilitators on the Texas Parks & Wildlife (TP&W) home page. On-site, deceased animals can be picked up by JSC Grounds. Offsite, deceased animals will be picked up by the city’s animal control.If guidance is needed about any situation involving wildlife on-site, JSC team members can contact an on-site rehabilitator: Leslie Schaschl, x37573; Jacilyn Wilkins, x31607; Stephanie Walker, x39140; and Merrell Skipper, x37570.


A surprising fact is that alligators are common on-site. They do not pose a threat unless you get to close or feed them. Young alligators will eat just about anything: voles, insects, fish, lizards, crawfish, and can be found in just about any waterway on JSC property. They can wind up anywhere, such as under a car or on a loading dock of a building. They are looking for shade or food and JSC Grounds or a wildlife rehabilitator can relocate the animal.

Animal abuse will not be tolerated

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Abusing wildlife can be a Class A and/or Class C misdemeanor, which can result in fines up to $500.

“TP&W will fine people for feeding certain types of wildlife (alligators), if the person is caught,” Skipper said.

Fun facts about armadillos

Armadillos have four identical babies, either four male or four female. Only the three-banded armadillo is flexible enough to roll itself into a ball for protection. However, we have the nine-banded armadillo in our area. Armadillos can “store” or “carry” embryo up to two years, waiting for just the right weather conditions before giving birth to live young. Their closest relatives are sloths and anteaters. Armadillos are known carriers of leprosy, so handling them or eating them is a risky practice.

Animals vs. animals

If animals are fighting with one another, the best thing to do is … nothing. Stay back, and make sure to keep out of harm’s way. Survival of the fittest is a natural process within nature and is a very necessary occurrence, a fact that people need to understand. “This drought is a good example; only the fittest will survive the harsh conditions, but it makes future species stronger,” Skipper said. “As rehabilitators, we won’t release animals that aren’t 100 percent both physically and genetically. You don’t want to release an animal with genetic issues that could harm the species’ genetic development in the long run.”

Stay tuned to JSC Features for more informative stories about wildlife at JSC!

Neesha Hosein
Johnson Space Center, Houston

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Updated: 07/01/2011