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Wild Animals in New York: How to Handle Them Safely


Alina Prikhodko

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New York is not only a city of people, but also of wild creatures, and following certain simple rules will help you coexist in harmony. A variety of wild creatures can appear right in your home or on your fire escape. However, when faced with such neighbors, it is important to know how to behave and how to ensure safety for everyone. The city I have prepared information that will help you cope with an unexpected meeting.

So, there is a bat in your apartment. Or a raccoon on a fire escape. Or a dolphin on the beach. Who will you call? There are more than 8 million people in New York. Raccoons, deer, dolphins, coyotes, birds of all kinds and, of course, rats live among us, trying to survive - just like everyone else. Whether they fly, walk or swim, the rules for most wild animals are the same, experts say: Leave them alone.

“If you take a good photo with your cell phone, you're too close,” Katrina Toal, deputy director of WildlifeNYC in the city's parks department, said of most animal sightings. “Like any New Yorker, wild animals want their own space.”

Experts also do not recommend feeding undomesticated animals, since most of them have adapted to life in a big city and know what food they need to survive.

However, sometimes these animals may need help, for example if they are sick or injured. In most cases, experts say the best thing to do is call 311 and ask for help for the animal. Please call during business hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to reach animal rescuers. During non-working hours, or if an animal is acting extremely dangerously or exhibiting rabies, we recommend calling 911 immediately.

On the subject: The coyote population has increased in New York: what to do if you encounter an animal

Animal Care Centers of New York responds to wildlife calls only if the animal poses a danger to people or has bitten someone, or if the animal is sick, injured, or trapped—or is on a federally designated species list. Endangered.

How we will coexist with these animals depends on who we are dealing with, but there are still general rules.

On the ground: Coyotes, deer and raccoons

In 2020, the NYPD warned parkgoers not to feed coyotes after they were repeatedly sighted in Central Park. While some people may be surprised to learn that these animals live in New York City, seeing them is not that uncommon. Last month, officials said coyotes were becoming more common in every borough except Brooklyn.

Organization Gotham Coyote Project encourages people to report sightings to them as they continue to monitor the breeding and travel patterns of urban coyotes.

Their website provides comprehensive information on why coyotes came to New York and notes that over the past 100-150 years they have expanded beyond their old familiar territory in the western part of the continent. As they moved east, they adapted to life in New York.

“Coyotes have not been pushed out of better, more pristine habitats,” the group says. “Coyotes are here because they can survive and reproduce successfully in our urban landscapes.” But too many wild animals can lead to chaos, and the city is taking measures to keep the animal population under control.

To curb Staten Island's booming deer population, the Parks Department has been trapping and sterilizing animals in the area since 2016. They worked with the Department of Transportation to install signs warning people about the possibility of deer, and spent millions of dollars building fencing and installing trees to protect the island's natural resources.

Fighting rabies

USDA officials recently placed about 300 tablets filled with rabies vaccine in a Brooklyn cemetery. The idea is that the raccoons living there will eat the bait and vaccinate themselves.

The project is a partnership between the federal agency and the city health and parks departments, and rabies vaccines are either hidden in baits or distributed by hand in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

Every year there are several positive cases of rabies in the city, mostly in raccoons. The worst outbreak occurred in 2010, when hundreds of rabid raccoons were discovered in Central Park. “Anywhere there are dense populations of raccoons, there is the potential for rabies outbreaks,” said Sally Slawinski, the health department's director of zoonotic and vector-borne diseases.

Raccoons with rabies are not usually aggressive; the virus makes them disoriented and tired. If you come across a raccoon that appears sick, the rules are the same: Call 311 and they will connect you to the nearest Animal Care Centers of NYC. DEC can also help with some animals and can be reached during business hours at (718) 482-4922.

“You should always respect wild animals,” Slawinski says. “Let them have their own habitat, and let us have ours.”

By air: Birds and bats

About 183 species of birds pass over the city each year as they migrate up and down the East Coast, said Katherine Quayle, director of communications for the Wild Bird Foundation. However, many of these diverse species encounter the bright skyscrapers of the city - the bright lights of the buildings attract and confuse them. An estimated 230 birds are killed in such collisions each year.

Buildings pose the biggest threat to birds, Quayle said, but there are other dangers on the ground in the city, such as lead poisoning from the soil or attacks by cats or dogs. Birds sometimes get caught in glue traps set to catch rats, she added.

Non-profit organization Wild Bird Fund annually treats 10 mostly winged patients in New York City, half of them pigeons. Nine out of ten of their patients are birds, but sometimes they have to treat turtles, marmots, squirrels or opossums.

Recently, poisoning ended the life of at least one beloved city resident. Barry the owl, who lived in Central Park and brought joy to New Yorkers during the pandemic, died in 2021 due to a collision with a truck. An investigation revealed that Barry had large amounts of poison in her system, and the veterinarian who performed the necropsy suggested that she had eaten a rat that had eaten the poison.

Rodenticides are not used in city public parks, but they are used in residential and commercial buildings, and rats and birds are known to move outside the parks.

Bats are visiting

According to Wildlife NYC's Toal, bats can be found in the city. “They fly in a zig-zag pattern, their eyes are their ears, and they use sonar to try to catch flying insects, including mosquitoes,” she said. They are not going to interact with people except on rare occasions when they manage to get into the attic.

Sometimes when the temperature drops, you may see bats lying on the ground because they are “cold stunned.” Toal recommends calling 311, who can find a city park ranger to take the bat to an animal care center or wildlife rehabilitator.

If you find a bat in your home or apartment, city officials likely won't send anyone to remove it unless there are any signs that it is sick. If city officials can't help you, you may have to hire a private animal control company to remove the bat or raccoon from your home, but that won't come cheap.

At sea: Dolphins, seals, whales and shorebirds

Experts say whales, dolphins and sharks are becoming more common near the shore thanks to the cleanup of the waters around New York. New York maritime rescue center, located in Suffolk County, helps rescue stranded sea turtles, dolphins, porpoises and seals.

These animals are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, and coming within 45 feet of them may constitute stalking.

If you see a normal-looking seal on the beach, you can assume it's just sunbathing. But if you come across an emaciated animal that appears injured, the Marine Rescue Center recommends contacting them, providing as much information as possible and photographs if you have them. The 631-hour hotline number is (369) 9829-XNUMX.

Strange deaths

The Marine Rescue Center also works with stranded or injured whales. In 2023, there was an alarming increase in the number of dead or stranded whales along the East Coast.

Some of the dozens of whales that have died on the East Coast showed signs of being struck by a boat or vessel before they died, but the cause of death for other whales is still unknown, according to a report released by NOAA earlier this month.

If you encounter a live whale that appears to be in distress, stranded or dead, NOAA advises calling the Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline in New York at (866) 755-6622.

New York City's largest beach, Rockaway Beach is home to endangered small shorebirds that nest along the Atlantic coast and on some inland U.S. beaches. The beaches where they live are closed to sunbathers and vacationers, and their nests are monitored by the Parks Department's wildlife division.

These birds are also monitored by a volunteer organization NYC Plover Project. Damaging the nests of these birds is a federal crime that carries heavy fines and jail time if you are caught and convicted.

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