Scourge of aviary still in business

After about two months without casualties, it appears the killer of local birds is back at work.

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WALLA WALLA -- There's no rest for the winged.

After seven death-free weeks, the Pioneer Park Aviary was recently struck again by a predator, according to Walla Walla Parks and Recreation officials.

A spate of fowl deaths in the aviary this past spring and early summer sent experts flying for answers. By early July, however, about two dozen of the enclosure's residents had fallen victim to a killer -- most likely the somewhat-rotund and wily raccoon seen in hidden-camera photos, traipsing in and out of cage traps without triggering the doors, noted Jim Dumont, parks department director, in July.

Professional nuisance trappers had no luck in snaring the intruder, but the carnage seemed to come to a halt nonetheless. Equipment was pulled and aviary life returned to normal, said Joanna Lanning, who oversees the program.

Until now.

She is unable to contact Leo Pauley, who brought his skill and equipment to the situation in the spring, and the two most experienced trappers are not available, Lanning was told by local wildlife officials. "I want to put out a desperate plea for assistance by someone who knows how to deal with these predators," she said in an email. "I am trying to do what I can by setting my own traps, but I have limited knowledge."

As of now, 30 animals have died at the paws of a killer, according to Lanning.

And there is no way to know which raccoon -- if it is a raccoon this time -- is entering the enclosure, said Joan Schille, park maintenance supervisor.

Dealing with death like this is part of doing business when animals are involved, Schille said this morning. It can come from age, illness and other animals -- finding this particular answer is no walk in the park.

"Our options for trapping are limited. We've tried everything ..."

One thing is certain, she added -- the aviary netting is sound and secure. "The net is checked all the time. It's tight, there are no holes. (Lanning) walks the perimeter every day, we have constant vigil and it's still a mystery, It would be an easy problem to solve if we knew how it was getting in."

Not even having Pauley spend several nights posing as a trapping, picture-taking aviary resident solved that one, Schille said. "Sometimes it's out of our hands."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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