It' s rewarding to have close up views of animals, but it' s easy for even the most responsible wildlife watchers to inadvertently put themselves, or the animals they seek, at risk. Keep the following tips in mind as you venture out into Florida' s natural areas:
Every animal differs in how close it will allow you to approach before it pauses in its feeding, nesting or resting activities, or flees altogether. Such disturbances can be disastrous for animals, especially the cumulative effect of frequent disruptions, a common occurrence at beaches, waterways and other busy wildlife viewing sites. When disturbed, an animal uses up valuable energy reserves that are no longer available for other uses, such as migrating, tending to young, mating or escaping predators. A fleeing parent may abandon a nest and risk exposing eggs or young to temperature extremes or predators.
How can you tell if you' re too close? Look for the obvious: Has the animal stopped feeding? Is it looking at you? Does it appear aggressive or skittish? Did the animal begin to move away or fly into the air? Is it dive-bombing you or circling overhead? Do you see distraction displays such as a bird exhibiting a "broken wing?" These behaviors are all progressive signs of disturbance.
If you see any of these signs, move away immediately. When possible, use binoculars or zoom lenses to extend your view. If an adult animal allows you to approach, something' s wrong. It may be sick, injured or aggressive. If you' re suspicious, contact the local site manager.
Corals are extremely fragile colonies of soft-bodied animals. It is illegal to collect them and they are damaged by touch. Boats should use mooring buoys rather than anchors.
Respect private property boundaries, even if the animal you are following does not. Obey posted signs near nesting areas and stay on roads, trails and paths to minimize habitat disturbance.
Resist the temptation to feed wild animals. Fed animals may abandon their natural, healthy diet, become dependent on human food and lose their fear of humans. Such animals can become aggressive or dangerous or may risk crossing busy roads to venture close to human habitations. Report people who attract wild dolphins or sharks by feeding them. As of Jan 1, 2002, they' re breaking the law. You can call our Wildlife Alert toll free number 1-888-404-FWCC
Young animals are rarely abandoned by their parents, so if you find one that looks helpless, there' s a good chance that the parents are nearby, waiting until you leave before they return. The longer you stay, the longer the youngster must go without food and the greater the risk that it will be spotted by a predator.
Finally, your trip will be more successful if you keep your pets at home. They may frighten or harm the wildlife you are seeking and many sites prohibit them altogether. It is against Florida law for you or your pets to chase, harass or harm wildlife.