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What To Do When You Encounter An Animal In The Wild

"Mommy, this followed me home. Can I keep it?"
What parent hasn't heard this at least once? When I was a kid, this usually applied to cats and dogs, with the occasional frog or lizard. Depending on where you live, now this can apply to all sorts of things you never thought you'd see. If you think about it, it makes sense; since so many forests are being cleared to build homes and businesses, animals who live there have less space to roam in and are thus more likely to come into contact with humans. This can be a good thing, and I'm sure your kids will get a huge kick out of it. However, it's important to know what to do if we encounter a wild animal. A lot depends on the animal itself, but here are some basic guidelines.
For more common 'encounters'-
Deer- Deer aren't usually threatening unless they themselves feel threatened. Don't feed them because it will cause them to deviate from their natural habits and could cause threatening predators to come up after them. They'll probably retreat on their own.
For the most part, you never want to turn your back on the animal.
Squirrels and other rodents-Most of the squirrels I've seen are afraid of people and will run away when they see us. If they don't, don't try to get closer or touch them; a veterinarian friend of mine told me that illnesses such as rabies take away their fear of people. Don't feed them.
Snakes- Back away slowly. Don't step toward it and, for the love of God, don't let your kids chase it! I'm sure you already knew that, but some kids don't have the sense of fear that would keep them from getting close to a wild animal.
Wolf/Fox/Coyote-We get foxes and coyotes in our area pretty often. If you see them, call animal control right away. In the mean time, throwing rocks or yelling can scare them off. Again, don't touch it or come close to it! Back away slowly. Do not run because it may mistake you for prey.

Your average suburbanite probably won't encounter these animals on a regular basis, but it still helps to know what to do if you do.
Alligator/Crocodile-I lived in an area with a lot of lakes and rivers that were home to crocodiles. If you see anything-eyes or a nose above the water, a tail, anything-get out of the water and run away! Contrary to popular belief, running in a 'zigzag' pattern won't make a difference. If one does catch you, aim your hits into the animal's eyes because these are particularly sensitive and will probably prompt it to let you go.
Mountain Lion-If you are on a hiking trail and see a mountain lion or other 'big cat', don't run or make any other sudden movements. Otherwise, it may mistake you for prey. Stay together. If you can find rocks or something else to use as a weapon, throw it. If it is downwind, use pepper spray. If it looks as though it's about to chase you, make make a lot of loud noises and move slowly behind a tree or other large object. Never lose sight of or turn your back on the animal.
Bears-If you're hiking, make your presence known. Stay in a group and make a lot of noise. Most of the time, they're more interested in your food than you. If you see a bear, make yourself seem 'bigger' by waving in your arms. If a bear stands up or appears to be charging, stand still until it goes away. They may not necessarily be looking to attack you, but you don't want to take any chances. If a black bear touches you, fight back and use your pepper spray. If a brown bear touches you, drop and play dead.

As interesting as it is to see a wild animal, you don't want to take any chances. Knowing the right things to do can go a long way in keeping safe!

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