Don’t be too curious since wildlife often can be deadly


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An alligator relaxes at the Viera Wetlands.

Adam Palumbo

Spinning tales about wildlife encounters since wild animals are unpredictable and consequently threatening.

With habitats rapidly being replaced by suburban development, it is not uncommon to observe wild animals in backyards.

Alligators, for example, frequent Florida neighborhood retention ponds. Patiently waiting for prey, their bulging eyes surface just above the water. Pursuit can occur at a speed of 20 miles per hour or lunging 6 feet to shore. However, on dry land, they maintain about 11 miles per hour, but not for long. Whether zigzagging or running straight, the pursued are not likely to be overcome by these reptiles on land.

Bears should not be challenged. The only species in Florida is the Florida black bear. Allow them an escape route. Do not play dead. Speak calmly and assertively and avoid abrupt movements. Back away slowly. Since bears can run 35 miles per hour and climb trees easily, running away seems futile.

Bobcats saunter through yards. If confronted, they generally hide or walk away. If they do not retreat, it is best to deliberately back away. Running to escape might instinctively cause them to pounce 12 feet or chase in short bursts at 25 to 30 miles per hour.

Deer are mostly nervous and flee. They will charge and kick, especially if the young are menaced. Males are the most dangerous during mating season (the rut). Moreover, deer cause around 200 human fatalities yearly on highways.

Undeniably, the unexpected occurs. Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, was fearless with most animals. But, he was on guard with volatile hippopotamuses and aggressive parrots — he almost lost his nose to these birds.

Yet, his fatal encounter occurred with a shy and gentle creature — an 8-foot-wide stingray whose barb pierced his chest.

The deadliest of encounters are with mosquitoes, which cause diseases and an estimated one million deaths yearly.

An awareness surfaced during World War II when thousands of American soldiers serving in the Philippines contracted malaria from mosquitoes.

Today, Africa experiences the majority of malaria deaths. Besides malaria, the mosquitoes carry West Nile virus and dengue fever.

When exploring the east coast of Florida and the Florida Keys, ornithologist John James Audubon was harassed by mosquitoes.

“Reader,” he bemoaned, “if you have not been in such a place, you cannot easily conceive the torments we endured.”

Seemingly, certain creatures have some control over disease-carrying mosquitoes. The renown Charles Darwin’s fast-evolving finches of the Galapagos Islands were observed rubbing their feathers with the leaves of the Galapagos guava tree, supposedly to repel mosquitoes and parasites.

The mosquitoes were believed to have been brought over on tourist planes. It is claimed that other species in the world also instinctively rub their feathers or fur with plant material for repellents.

Humans can moderately control mosquitoes by removing standing water, applying repellents or spraying infested areas.

Regarding other wildlife, it is prudent to suppress curiosity and evade encounters.