Risks to People from Wildlife

Smart Wildlife Watching Protects People

National parks offer unique settings to watch wildlife in their natural habitats. And these experiences can have real health benefits, too. The sunshine helps you meet your daily Vitamin D recommendation, and scientists have linked time in nature to boosts in mental clarity, immunity, and happiness. Wildlife experiences can also bring on a sense of harmony, connectedness, and appreciation for nature.

For the most part, staying safe while watching wildlife is easy: simply leave the wildlife alone. However, sometimes you might accidentally get too close to them on a trail or see other visitors unaware of the dangers, so it’s important to know the risks of getting too close to wild animals.

The 7 Ways to Safely Watch Wildlife can help you avoid these risks:

Diseases Carried by Animals

Sometimes wildlife can get sick with diseases that are dangerous (sometimes even deadly) to humans. Illnesses that humans can get from wildlife include rabies, plague, and Lyme disease. People can catch these diseases from the droppings of infected animals, by touching or feeding wildlife, or by getting bitten. Never touch wildlife, alive or dead, and be sure to tell a ranger if you see any wildlife acting strangely, like a bat flying in the daytime, for example.

Your pets can also get diseases from wildlife. And pets can give some diseases to wildlife. To keep your pets and wildlife safe, be sure to keep pets on a leash, keep their vaccinations up to date, and don’t leave their food and water unattended. Better yet, leave them at home since many parks don’t allow pets on trails. Learn more about diseases shared between people and wildlife on the NPS One Health website.

deer mouse
Deer Mouse

NPS Photo / John Good

Physical Injury from Wildlife

Wild animals are unpredictable. An unusual sound or smell may scare them, causing them to bolt or even charge. That’s why each park requires visitors to stay a certain distance away from animals, usually 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from large wildlife like bears or wolves. (Always check with the park you’re visiting, some parks require a minimum distance of 50 yards.) Remember, it’s your responsibility to maintain that distance. If wildlife approaches you, then you need to move back.

Wildlife can be dangerous for your pets. Large animals like moose can trample anything underfoot, and some birds can even fly off with small pets in their talons. Pets look like prey to many wildlife, so they will act accordingly, giving chase and possibly killing your pet, even when on a leash.

Injuries from wildlife are not a pleasant way to spend your vacation. Bison and elk can gore, butt, or toss visitors and their pets. Snakes can strike, and bears can maul. Smaller wildlife such as squirrels and fox can bite and may carry ticks or fleas or rabies that can make you or your pet sick. Every year, visitors to national parks are injured by the wildlife—make sure it’s not you!

For more tips on staying safe around wildlife, check out this video from HitRecord.

Visitors stand too close to elk
Visitors stranding too close to elk

NPS Photo / Neal Herbert

Keep Wildlife Wild!

When you follow the rules in great outdoors you help keep wildlife wild. Wild animals are more interesting to watch as they follow their instincts and experience the world with little human interaction. So keep your distance and report anything unusual to a ranger—you’re not only protecting yourself but also the wildlife within the parks. And you’re keeping the unique wildlife watching experience available for others. #KeepWildlifeWild

Last updated: October 3, 2016

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