Wildlife Viewing and Safety Tips

distance visitors should keep from horses and other park wildlife. Shows visitor standing 40 feet from a horse and 150 feet from a seal. shows that 40 feet equals the length of a school bus.
It can be hard to believe that a safe distance is as much about the animal’s welfare as it is about yours, but it’s true. Getting too close, feeding, and touching are all things that can put you and your furry, feathered, or scaled counterpart in grave danger. While Assateague Island National Seashore is a conscientious partner for visitors, it also remains continuously committed to the protection and preservation of nature and wildlife.
Despite their good intentions, some visitors love park animals to death. As wildlife become used to humans and lose their natural fear, the animals become aggressive and may be destroyed. Although they may appear harmless and even curious about you, horses do injure visitors every year. That’s partly why approaching, harassing, or feeding any kind of wildlife, no matter how small or familiar, is illegal in all national parks.

We want all visitors to create lasting memories, so be safe and remember that distance always makes the heart grow fonder.

How close is too close?
Stay at least 40 feet (12 meters) or about one bus-length away from wild horses, which are all the horses you’ll encounter in our park. Keep at least 150 feet (46 meters) or about three bus-lengths away from seals; they pass through our beach areas in winter months. Stay safe and never assume you are the one that can get away with a close encounter.

But, what if I really want the perfect photo?
The popularity of selfies and capturing any moment through photographs or video is posing a new threat to wildlife and humans. Trigger-happy tourists have started to provoke animals, and in some instances, alter their behaviors as a result. Quietly watching from a distance can be even more rewarding than getting the perfect shot. Perhaps you even came here to “get away” from a busy lifestyle and technology. So, use your zoom or a telephoto lens, or put your camera down and take a moment to really appreciate what you see.
Camera Icon
See our How to View and Photograph Wildlife page for tips on how to get a great photo or video from a safe distance.

What if I want to get an animal’s attention?
Calling, clicking, whistling or making noises of any kind to attract wildlife, including horses, is illegal. Animals deserve to enjoy the park without disruption just as you do.

If there’s a group of people, is it safer to be near wildlife?
Whether it’s just you or 10 people, keep the long distance. As crowds gather (as they often do), wildlife can quickly feel threatened and, in their panic, harm people. This is especially the case as people start to surround the animal(s), even if they are at the proper distance, because the wildlife may feel trapped. If people around you stop maintaining the safe distance, don’t be afraid to speak up and remind your fellow visitors of the regulations: one bus-length for horses and three bus-lengths for seals. Sometimes, in the moment, anyone could use a gentle reminder that long-distance relationships with wildlife are better for everyone.

What if an animal approaches me?
Wildlife may not know better, but YOU do. Although it may feel flattering, if any kind of wildlife approaches you, back away and maintain that safe distance. It’s your responsibility and your safety - help us keep wildlife wild.

Can I feed or give water to the wildlife or horses?
You can feed horses at petting zoos, but this national park is a really special place where horses are wild. Help us keep this place and these animals unique by never feeding them.

Feeding wildlife, including the horses, is prohibited. Even feeding horses grass from the park or other food you think might be harmless is not allowed. This is for their safety as well as yours.

Wild horses and other wildlife will invade food left unattended. Store food in your car or locked tight in a sealed container. Use our wildlife-proof containers to dispose trash, and ensure you clean up all food particles.

Turning on water for horses is unnecessary and is one of the top ways visitors end up hurt since horses will start protecting the water source, chasing down or biting people who come near. The park has several fresh water sources that never dry up. Unfortunately, some visitors have done this before, which is why you may see horses hanging out near them. Help us re-train them to keep to their natural water sources by never giving them water.

What if an animal begs for food?
Animals can easily pick up scavenging practices, so never feed them. Animals stay healthier when you do not feed them. And, once they learn to beg, they can become aggressive, more likely to get injured by vehicles, and become seriously ill. They do not need your food handouts to survive. You can help us curtail this unwanted behavior from animals by putting your food away and moving away from the animal. Ask a ranger for other ways you can help.

Ah, but what harm could one person really do when they get too close or toss a piece of food to an animal? I’ve been up close to wildlife before!
Some of us might think of ourselves as “animal whisperers” or be really familiar with them, especially horses. We can certainly appreciate that, but consider using your gift to help our national parks be a place where wildlife can be wild. That’s why you and all of our other guests have come to appreciate these special places. Be a role model to others in your family or group and even other visitors by embodying our mission to protect and preserve our wildlife.

Horse Bite on visitors shoulder

Risks to you include:

  • Bites, scratches, and/or bruises
  • Infectious diseases
  • Internet/media fame for a very undesirable reason (Have you seen the number of YouTube videos and news reports of people getting attacked by wild animals because they got too close?)
  • Damage to your vehicle or belongings
  • Animal waste in or on your belongings (or you) when you do not secure and store your food properly
  • Pesky and persistent animals that could become aggressive
  • In rare cases, severe injuries or even death
stallion killed by vehicle

Risks to wildlife include:

  • Diseases
  • Poor health
  • Increased likelihood of being killed by vehicle traffic because they are drawn to visitor areas
  • Euthanasia when animals become aggressive or harmful to visitors
  • Injuries
  • Young wildlife may be abandoned

Last updated: July 23, 2018

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

7206 National Seashore Lane
Berlin, MD 21811


410 641-1441

Contact Us