Many children are fascinated by nature, and especially animals. Your budding veterinarian or naturalist just wants to explore the great outdoors. Kids don’t have the instincts needed to keep themselves safe from wild animals–and to keep animals safe from them. It’s up to you to educate yourself about the dangers and teach kids to be respectful of Mother Nature.
All Creatures Great and Small
According to Kathy Kupper of the U.S. National Park Service, “At the Grand Canyon, the number one reason people end up at the clinic is from squirrel bites.”
You might not think of a squirrel as being particularly dangerous, but any animal will try to defend itself if it feels threatened. That’s doubly true if it is protecting its territory or its young. For example, Canada geese can be very aggressive when there’s a nest nearby.
Kids should never touch an animal. They also should never shout or throw something at the creature to get a reaction. Teach kids to be respectful–but wary–of nature.
Kids love to get into places they shouldn’t go. Neglected buildings often become havens for wild creatures such as bats, rodents, and snakes. Dark, damp environments beneath rocks, sticks, and boards are ideal homes for snakes and spiders. All of these animals could become startled and lash out.
If your child is bitten or scratched, it’s important to get treatment right away. Whenever possible, take a photo of the animal in case your memory mixes up the details. It can be very difficult to tell the difference between a harmless milk snake and a venomous coral snake, particularly when you’re dealing with an emergency.
Don’t Feed the Animals
Aside from bird feeders, giving food or treats to wild animals is never okay. Animals know how to take care of themselves, but if they get used to receiving food from humans instead, it can damage their natural instincts. Most human food is not good for wild animals, anyway.
In addition, wildlife that becomes used to being hand-fed could become a nuisance–or be so trusting that they can be hurt or killed by bad people.
Dealing with Hurt Wildlife
The most heartbreaking sight for a young animal lover is a hurt or abandoned creature. They want to help, but they could inadvertently make things worse.
The best thing you can do for an animal is often to leave it alone. The creature could be a danger to your child, either because of a disease or simple aggression. Hurt animals lash out, and approaching a wounded creature is very dangerous.
If you find an animal that needs help, you can contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center for advice. You can find information about local organizations from the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.