Florida newspapers contain many stories of people or animals becoming injured because people assume these wild animals are docile circus performers here for their enjoyment. That’s simply not the case. Even friendly-looking creatures can misunderstand a human’s intentions and go on the attack. This results in injury to the person and to the animal as the animal is now seen as aggressive and must be relocated or terminated.
Whether you’re a Florida native or someone visiting from another state, it’s important that you always use caution when encountering wild animals. While it’s best not to approach them at all, here are some things you should consider before getting near our wildlife:
Tips for Interacting Safely with Wild Animals
- Excited children may scare animals. When kids are excited they often make high-pitched noises and move quickly. They may also jump, flap their hands, scream, and run up to the animal. Some animals may see this type of interaction as a potential attack and go on the defensive. Keep young children close to you and remind them that animals get frightened easily. When they are frightened they may attack.
- Don’t approach an animal that is near the road or any type of traffic. While you shouldn’t approach a wild animal anywhere, it is especially dangerous around traffic. Scared animals have two choices, fight or flight. If they fight, you could be badly injured. If they run into oncoming traffic, it could end their lives, not to mention injure the people in the car as well.
- Stay away from nests and mothers with their young. A mother will either instinctively protect her young or could potentially abandon them, neither is a good situation for the babies. Walk out of your way to avoid them, if you stumble across them. While a mama and her babies seem like a good Insta moment, it could become a deadly one. Don’t assume that a non-aggressive species will remain so. Animals that are usually docile can become aggressive when their young are involved.
- Don’t feed them. There are so many reasons to avoid this. Please, if you enjoy the animals don’t feed them. They will lose their desire to hunt. They will see humans as a food source. Believe us, this is not something you want. Animals who see humans as their food source will stalk all humans and when they don’t feed them, they will get more aggressive, just watch seagulls to see what we mean. If they develop a taste for human food, they may ingest plastic, aluminum foil and other dangerous materials because they smell food in them. Plus, most human food is very bad for animals. It can cause tooth decay, malformations, and ulcers. They can’t process the chemicals, fats, and other poisons we ingest.
- Do not assume “safe actions.” Many people who are bitten by wild animals say they were surprised by the animal attack. They claim it seemed friendly. To them, it did. However, wild animals do not necessarily exhibit the same warning signs that a domesticated animal would. For instance, a domesticated dog who is afraid may put his ears back and tuck in his tail. If you’re waiting for a wild animal to do the same to indicate fear or aggression, you may end up with a very bad experience. Coyotes and other wild animals can attack without growling or exhibiting any other warning sign. If they perceive you as a threat, they may attack. Don’t wait for a warning.
- Never think that an animal approaching you means they want to be friendly or want you to pet them. In fact, they may see you as a threat. You won’t know that until they get closer. Again, they may not warn you. They may approach slowly and you may think they’re friendly. However, it’s likely they’re just assessing the situation and deciding how much of a threat or foe you are.
- Do not disturb their habitat. This means clean up your trash, don’t pick up nests, babies, or cause other disturbances to where the animals live. Even if you don’t see them around and you suspect that those places are abandoned, it’s best not to touch. Animals can sense when humans have been nearby and it may cause them to abandon an area that is otherwise a good source of food or shelter for them. Do not place them in harm’s way by disturbing their habitat.
When you are out enjoying Florida’s natural wonders it’s important that you respect our many wild animals. Even those that look friendly could be a potential threat to you and your family’s safety. It’s always best to avoid a close encounter with a wild animal. Even if they approach you, it is your responsibility to step aside and give them room.
Approaching a wild animal often leads to a fight or flight response. If they run away, they could get injured by an oncoming car (or boat) or be distracted by your presence and become potential prey for a larger animal in trying to avoid you. On the other hand, if it fights that could mean injury to you or your family and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission may be required to relocate or exterminate the animal. Do yourself, and the wildlife, a favor and give them plenty of room whenever you come in contact with them.