Wildlife Encounters are on the Rise: Here’s How to Protect Yourself and Your Pets

Spring is a time of renewal, and for wildlife in the United States, it’s a time to emerge from their winter slumber. As the weather warms up and the snow melts away, animals begin to stir and come out of hibernation. While it’s exciting to see these creatures out and about, human encounters can pose risks for both the wildlife and people.

Spring brings an increase in human-wildlife interactions.

Photo: Adobe Stock / Carmina
Spring brings an increase in human-wildlife interactions.

Here are just a few of the risks that human-wildlife interactions can lead to:

  • Injuries and fatalities: Wild animals can be dangerous, and human encounters can lead to injuries or even death.
  • Disruption of natural behavior: Human presence can disrupt animals’ natural behavior, Nature reports, leading to changes in feeding patterns, mating habits, and migration routes.
  • Stress and anxiety: Human encounters can cause stress and anxiety in animals, leading to health problems and decreased survival rates.
  • Disease transmission: Contact with wildlife can lead to the transmission of diseases, including rabies, Lyme disease, and hantavirus.
Wildlife should never be approached or handled by humans.

Photo: Adobe Stock / henk bogaard
Wildlife should never be approached or handled by humans.

Here’s a breakdown of what animals are emerging from hibernation and what precautions humans should take when encountering them:

Bears

During spring, bears come out of hibernation with their young cubs. Females use this time to teach their offspring how to survive and hunt for food, Mens Journal reports. To avoid drawing bears into residential areas, humans should secure their garbage cans and store food indoors, whether it’s for pets or birdseed. If you come across a bear, give them space and never attempt to feed them.

Coyotes

Coyote sightings are on the rise as spring begins. As they come out of their dens, they begin searching for food and mates. Coyotes are typically shy and avoid human contact, but they may become aggressive if they feel threatened, the Harbor Light News reports. To protect yourself and your pets, avoid leaving food or trash outside and keep your pets on a leash when outside.

Human-wildlife conflicts can be minimized through education and awareness.

Photo: Adobe Stock / Joe
Human-wildlife conflicts can be minimized through education and awareness.

Bats

In the southern U.S., maternity season for bats runs from April 15 through August 15, and in Florida it is illegal to block bats from their roosts, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Homeowners should check their homes and structures for entry points and make necessary repairs after ensuring no bats are present. If you come across a bat, do not touch it and contact a professional for assistance.

Project Peril, a program of Greater Good Charities, is dedicated to the conservation of bats and other species identified as in peril, threatened, endangered or close to extinction throughout the world. Your donations to this program help protect bats from White-nose Syndrome, a wildlife disease that is killing bats all across the continent

Alligators

The alligator mating season typically spans from May to June, following the start of courtship in early April. In the vicinity of water bodies, people who are inattentive to their surroundings may become victim to alligator attacks. It is advisable to avoid approaching alligators and remain alert to the environment when near water.

Wildlife corridors and crossings can help reduce collisions with vehicles.

Photo: Adobe Stock / Mark J. Barrett
Wildlife corridors and crossings can help reduce collisions with vehicles.

Manatees

As spring arrives, manatees start to leave their winter habitats such as springs. Those who use watercrafts like boats must remain vigilant and observe the posted speed limits and seasonal zones that correspond to the migration patterns of manatees, as boat strike is the leading killer of these dwindling animals, Spectrum News 13 reports. It is important not to approach these gentle creatures or feed them.

You can help Project Peril, a program of Greater Good Charities, in its work to help protect threatened species like the manatee. Your donations will purchase produce, especially leafy greens, for manatees recovering from malnutrition, and aid in seagrass replanting efforts in Florida.

Reptiles

As temperatures rise, snakes become more active and should be given space and left alone, KCEN TV reports. Gopher tortoises also become more active in the spring as they search for food and mates. If you come across a gopher tortoise crossing a road, and it’s safe to do so, move it to a safer location pointed in the direction it was heading.

Spring weather conditions can affect wildlife behavior and activity patterns.

Photo: Adobe Stock / Mike Workman
Spring weather conditions can affect wildlife behavior and activity patterns.

Birds

Spring is a busy season for birds of all kinds. Whether they’re migrating to new areas or beginning to nest, it’s important to give them space and avoid disrupting their natural behaviors. Shorebirds and seabirds, in particular, are vulnerable to being disturbed, so coastal residents and beachgoers should watch for their nests and keep a safe distance.

By providing birdhouses, roosting pockets and birdie bells we can help our sweet flying friends build a nest, and have a little place to call home. Your donations to Greater Good Charities help supply a safe shelter for our winged companions. The houses and shelters you support will go to areas affected by natural disasters, wildlife sanctuaries, reserves, and other areas in need, as well as classrooms and other facilities to help people learn about birds and how vital they are to the environment.

Sea Turtles

Sea turtle nesting season is a critical time for the survival of these species, and it is important to minimize the impact of human activities on the beaches during this period, CW 44 Tampa Bay reports. This includes avoiding the use of flashlights, beach bonfires, and other sources of bright light that can disorient the turtles and interfere with their natural behavior.

Project Peril is working to support community-based programs that effectively address threats to coastal habitats. These include removing beachfront lighting, physical barriers to nesting beaches, and vehicle traffic that crushes nests and incubating embryos. These programs also work toward reforestation, dune stabilization and beach clean-ups. Another key goal is the reduction of poaching and predation. Your donations to this program directly support these critical initiatives through Project Peril.

Human development can fragment wildlife habitats, leading to conflicts in the spring.

Photo: Adobe Stock / Farid
Human development can fragment wildlife habitats, leading to conflicts in the spring.

What to do when encountering wildlife

As wildlife emerge from their winter slumber, humans should always remember to respect these creatures and give them space. To avoid conflicts, never approach or attempt to feed any wildlife and always be aware of your surroundings. As well:

  • Stay calm and quiet: Sudden movements or loud noises can startle animals and cause them to flee or attack.
  • Keep your distance: Wildlife is unpredictable and can be dangerous, so it’s essential to give them plenty of space. Yellowstone Park recommends staying at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves, and at least 25 yards away from all other animals.
  • Observe from a safe distance: Use binoculars or a camera to get a closer look without disturbing the animals.
  • Respect their space: If you encounter a nest, den, or burrow, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks recommends to keep a safe distance and don’t disturb it.
  • Never feed wildlife: Feeding animals can disrupt their natural behavior and lead to aggression, health problems, and dependency on humans, the University of Georgia reports.
  • Keep your pets on a leash: Unleashed dogs can chase, harass, or attack wildlife, causing injury or death to both animals, the BBC reports.
  • Follow park rules and regulations: National and state parks have specific guidelines for interacting with wildlife, so it’s essential to read and follow these rules to ensure safety for both visitors and wildlife.
Wildlife may become more aggressive during breeding season in the spring.

Photo: Adobe Stock / Zsuzsanna
Wildlife may become more aggressive during breeding season in the spring.

It’s important to respect the safety of wildlife. Here’s how to do just that:

  • Respect their habitat: Wildlife rely on their habitat for food, shelter, and breeding, so it’s essential to preserve their environment.
  • Reduce human impact: Minimizing human impact can help to reduce disturbances to wildlife habitats. Avoid littering, stay on designated trails, and do not disturb vegetation.
  • Report any wildlife violations: If you witness any illegal hunting, poaching, or harassment of wildlife, report it to the authorities immediately.
  • Support conservation efforts: Supporting conservation organizations can help to protect wildlife and their habitats. Consider donating to or volunteering with local or national conservation groups.
Human activities can also help promote wildlife conservation in the spring.

Photo: Adobe Stock / Robin Keefe
Human activities can also help promote wildlife conservation in the spring.

Spring is an exciting time to see wildlife emerge from their winter slumber, but it’s essential to respect these creatures and their habitats. Human encounters with wildlife can pose risks for both animals and people, so it’s crucial to follow guidelines and respect their space. By doing so, we can ensure that these animals remain safe and healthy and continue to thrive in their natural environment.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, spending time with his daughters, and coffee.
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