Science Writer Mary Roach's Advice on How to Safely Encounter Wild Animals

Mary Roach explores a host of furry situations in her book, “Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law."

Science writer Mary Roach says human-animal encounters are on the rise, partly due to COVID-19. And sometimes, those animals are out wreaking havoc.

“Trespassing, vandalism, littering…animals do all of these things that we humans call crime, but obviously, they're animals,” she said. “You can't fine them. You can't tell them what the law is. So what do you do? How do you deal with that in a way that's fair to the animals, fair to the people?”

She explores a host of furry situations in her book, “Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law.” She spoke with Inside Edition Digital about how humans can be better about coexisting with the fauna among us.

“There's been a lot of activity, a lot of humans calling wildlife agencies about bears this year,” Roach explained. “And some of that is, I think, has to do with COVID and the fact that over the past year, people have been out in nature more because they don't have a lot of alternatives.”

She added that places like California are dealing with a drought, which makes animals come out even more.

"But most of the time," she said, "when there is a bear encounter, they are not a threat to human safety. They may be just causing property damage."

Still, that doesn’t mean all is copacetic with bear encounters. There are times when things can escalate.

“The bears get more used to being around people. They start to lose their fear. They start to get a little more aggressive in going after the food,” she said.

“Maybe the dog food that's inside the porch. And they're coming closer, and they're seeing that there's rewards there. Losing their fear of the people. And then the closer the two get together, then you start to really have trouble. Somebody gets hurt, and then the bear gets put down. And that's very sad.”

So what’s the proper etiquette when around bears? Mary notes that people and bears are both better off when they maintain some distance.

“Keep the garbage secured. If you have a lot of bears around, a bear-resistant container for the garbage. And don't leave pet food out in a bowl or in a bag.”

“Bird feeders are also very appealing to bears. They're very good at getting at them. So don't give them a reason to come closer and closer because they're big, and they're strong, and they can cause damage, and they can hurt you. They rarely do, but it's best to respect them from a distance, enjoy them from a distance.”

Climate change isn’t making things any easier for human-bear relations, either, Roach said.

“There was a study done out of Colorado that looked at hibernation and how temperature affects hibernation,” she said. “And with temperatures rising, with global warming, what we're going to see is shorter hibernation periods. And that means more days out on the land, more days competing for food with other bears, more days when bears might be tempted to look for food in your backyard.”

"For every two-degree increase Fahrenheit, it's a week shorter hibernation. So by 2050, the projection was the hybrid hibernation would be 15 to 40 days shorter. So that's a lot more time for bears to be out there looking for food, interacting with people. That is a concern.”

Another animal people must be aware of is big cats, like mountain lions. And, as Roach reveals, mountain lions are more dangerous than bears.

“They are very effective killers. They're so stealthy. Their prey rarely knows what's about to hit them until they hit. And they just go right for the back of the neck, and they do a killing bite, and it's over very fast.

“What often happens with mountain lions and people, someone's hiking with a dog or dogs," she said. "The dogs smell the cat, and there's some sort of altercation. And then what happens is something in the wildlife world they call attack redirection, where the cat, the person tries to pull the dog back, and the cat turns on the person. But in general, they're so stealthy you may have hiked right by one and never known it because they're not interested in people.”

So what If someone does come face to face with a mountain lion?

“Sort of make yourself big and make noise,” Roach suggested. “Back slowly away. Never run. That's the one very important piece of information about mountain lions is to back away slowly because if you run or mountain bike away if that cat is already seeing you as a predator, it triggers this response to chase. So that's bad.”

Overall, the key is to avoid any unnecessary encounters. But if one happens, just try to get along.

“Coexistence to me is the goal for harmony between people and animals. And when I say coexistence, it's mostly an attitude shift. Especially for some of the backyard wildlife in urban areas.”

She says that humans need to be more aware of how they handle situations with wild animals.

“Most of the instances, it's almost more as the problem humans. It's people leaving trash unsecured, people feeding Canada geese till so many of them come that it's a problem, and you have to go and kill some of them.”

“So it's a human behavior problem, not an animal behavior problem in so many cases. And if people can just think beyond, 'oh, I just want to feed this animal.’ If they could think about the bigger picture and what that is going to mean for those animals. Humans are more the problem than the animals.”

Roach said that overall, we should be grateful to be able to share the planet with animals.

“It's endlessly amazing and awesome to me that this amazing variety of wild creatures are right around us,” she said.

“That they're still out there as much as we've messed up this planet and we've done things poorly, there's still out there, lots of them. Fewer than there were, but it's just really special."

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