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Giving Space and Respect: Human - Animal Interactions - April 26, 2015

Now that Spring is in full swing, with summer on the way, people are spending more time outside, enjoying our parks, beaches and even the backyard. With all the time being spent outdoors, you are sure to encounter some of our native and visiting wildlife.
 
    While Human and animal interactions are often brief and exciting, they can also be detrimental to both parties, especially the animals. When humans impede on their natural space, act in a threatening manner or approach a nest animals will do what is in their nature; a flight or fight response. 
 
    Both responses are detrimental to the animal, as a flight response could move animals away from favorable browsing grounds, force them into a developed area or road, and unduly stress the animals. A fight response can be bad for both humans and animals as the animal, when feeling threatened, will take an aggressive stance and when pushed will fight back with fangs, hooves, antlers or whatever is available. This leads to injuries to both humans and animals and can make them a target for human hatred or hunting. 
 
    Human and animal interactions do not have to be detrimental to either party as long as we observe a few rules. First, do not try to touch any wild animal unless it seems to be in dire straights. If you see an animal that appears to be hurt or injured, please contact the appropriate organization so that they can help collect, rehabilitate and release the animal unless otherwise directed to help the animal yourself. Injured animals are stressed and unpredictable so take care when around them, as they might be more aggressive. 
 
    Second, do not try to entice or feed wild animals, as this can lead to them becoming habituated to people. If wild animals become habituated to people this can cause them to become more aggressive, wander into developed areas or cause malnutrition due to human feeding. 
 
    And lastly, do your homework and know your local flora and fauna species! There are some animal-human interactions that are very unpleasant, such as tick or chigger bites, so make sure to know where these species might be and how to avoid them. 
 
    Spring time is a very busy time for many animals here in Maryland, especially young and their parents. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you should you encounter some of our different animal species: 
 
    Diamondback Terrapins are truly amazing animals that are extremely well adapted to our coastal bays and their watershed. The Maryland state mascot, these charismatic turtles can be found in the marshes, rivers and bays around Delmarva however they still need our protection. One way we can do this is by adding Byctach Reduction Devices (BRDs) to your crab pots. The BRDs are small rectangular devices that are attached to crab pots to deter terrapins from entering and getting trapped. Also, be careful when digging around your garden or yard, especially if you have a waterfront property, because terrapin nests are often very well disguised and can be hard to spot.
 
    Terrestrial turtles can also need help, especially when crossing a busy road. If you see a turtle walking on the road or somewhere it might get squashed then feel free to move it across the developed area. Keep in mind though that terrestrial turtles have a relatively small “home area” so you do not need to move it much. If you do not know your turtle species, do not try to pick the turtle up and move it to the other side of the road with your hands, as it might be a snapping turtle and could bite you. Its ok to use your foot to nudge them along, they will get the hint usually and move in the direction you want.
 
    The old wives tale about humans touching baby birds that then get abandoned by their parents is absolutely false. If you find one on the ground and can place it back into its nest safely, then go for it! Of course take care not to stay around the nest to long, as human presence can cause the parents to get agitated, and an agitated parental bird can be feisty. If you can not safely put the baby bird back into its nest and its almost able to fly, it is probably a fledging and you should place it in nearby thick shrubbery to protect it from the sun and predators.  
 
    Bunnies make their nests in some pretty crazy places. If you stumble upon a nest without any parents, leave it alone and generally they will come back. If your cat or dog brings a baby bunny home and it is alive and relatively unhurt, try to place it where you think it found it.
 
    The horseshoe crab is an ancient species that spawns during full moons and high tides throughout the summer months.  While they are called crabs, they do not bite or pinch. Should you see one upside down on land, right it by picking it up by the shell. Do not pick it up by the tail, which is actually called a telson. If the telson breaks, it will ultimately lead to death. 
 
    The best way to make sure that both people and animals have good interactions and remain safe is to respect nature and give these wild animals plenty of space. 
 
Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 


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