Wildlife Viewing Guidelines

Coyotes are common to the Marin Headlands.



Keep the “Wild” in Wildlife

To urbanites having their first National Park experience at Golden Gate, the opportunity to view wildlife in their natural habitat is a transformative event. Hearing a coyote howl or seeing a mule deer graze are not sensations to be had on city streets. Golden Gate is home to 53 species of mammals, 250 birds, 20 reptiles and 11 amphibians. There are so many human issues intertwined with wildlife management that sometimes it becomes a sticky situation. How can visitors not raised around wildlife understand all of the far-reaching effects of feeding them? When do park staff make the decision to remove an animal from the park for fear of hurting the public or park resources? How do visitors know they are getting close enough to disturb animals? We are animals, and sometimes our emotional response to them comes between embracing a wildlife conservation ethic grounded in sound science and management. In recent years, resource management staff has noted an increase in negative interactions between wildlife and park visitors. Some of these heartbreaking cases have ended in euthanizing animals that have become overly aggressive.

Please report sightings of feedings to Wildlife Ecologist Bill Merkle at (415) 331-2894. Leave your name and phone number with your message and the time of the incident. Report aggressive behavior and attacks immediately to U.S. Park Police Dispatch at (415) 561-5510.

Fed raccoons stalk the Marin Headlands looking for handouts
Fed raccoons stalk the Marin Headlands looking for handouts.

NPS photo

A Fed Animal is a Dead Animal

Animals that are fed lose not only their natural fear of humans, but also their ability to forage on their own. They often become overly aggressive and completely dependent on handouts. They start to look skinny and sickly and develop begging behaviors, which exacerbates the cycle further as visitors feel sorry for them. Wild animals can misinterpret your actions! They don’t know where the food stops and your fingers begin. Yet the animal could lose its life when people complain of being bitten or attacked. Fed animals tend to congregate near roadways and are at a high risk for being killed by vehicles. Leaving garbage exposed at picnic areas or beaches can also attract larger predatory mammals and birds. Problem feeding occurs across the park from coyotes and deer in the Headlands to chipmunks and ravens in Muir Woods to raccoons and feral cats in the Presidio.

Harbor seals haul-out undisturbed at Point Bonita
Harbor seals haul-out undisturbed at Point Bonita.

Sue VanderWaal

Ethical Wildlife Viewing

All wildlife in national parks are protected by federal law. Most people know that hunting and trapping are not allowed in national parks, but many people do not realize that approaching wildlife is also prohibited. When you come too close, you cause animals stress and may interfere with behaviors that are necessary for their survival. Good examples at Golden Gate are the snowy plovers at Ocean Beach that need the reserves they build up in the park overwintering for mating, Brandt's cormorants being flushed off of their nests by boaters at Alcatraz, and the harbor seals at Point Bonita that need the hauling out time on the rocks to thermoregulate. We are in their territory and are perceived as threatening. Don’t follow animals or behave in any way that may be perceived as “harassment,” and don’t allow your pets to either.

Visitors don't always treat deer as the wild animals they are
Visitors don't always treat deer as wild animals.

NPS photo

When You Approach Wildlife, You Risk Injury

Seemingly tame animals are still wild, and behave unpredictably. Animals may use their teeth, claws, hooves, or antlers to defend themselves. Visitors are attacked by mule deer or bitten by ground squirrels in Western parks every year. Experience wildlife from a safe distance. You are too close to an animal if your presence causes them to move! Loud noises, sudden movement or an unannounced approach will cause them to interrupt their normal behavior. Always give animals an avenue for retreat. There are other more serious hazards associated with wildlife. Rodents carry hantavirus, bats carry rabies, and chipmunks have been known to carry the plague. In some situations these diseases may be transmitted through simple contact. DON’T ever handle wildlife unless you are a trained resource management professional. By keeping wildlife wild, you are protecting their safety - and yours.

Last updated: March 28, 2018

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Mailing Address:

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Building 201, Fort Mason

San Francisco, CA 94123-0022


(415) 561-4700
Pacific West Region Information Center (415) 561-4700 Special Event & Commercial Film Permits (415) 561-4300

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