Bears are no longer just going through the trash, they are breaking and entering. And coyotes are no longer contained to the wily domain of Saturday morning cartoons, they are trotting through suburban neighborhoods in increasing numbers.
A recent spate of black bear home invasions and attacks by coyotes and foxes on adults and children in the state of New Jersey sheds light on the growing nationwide problem of human and wildlife encounters.
As humans continue to encroach and build homes and businesses in suburban and rural areas once solely inhabited by wildlife, experts warn that the problem may worsen.
In New Jersey, a coyote bit a 22-month-old boy in his grandparents' backyard in April. In May, a coyote attacked a 5-year-old boy playing in a yard near his Middletown home.
And last week, Putnam County officials say a Patterson woman was attacked by a fox in her backyard.
Meanwhile, the state's black bear population has skyrocketed after years of dwindling numbers. Last week, police in North Jersey shot and killed a bear in a tree that had broken into a house earlier in the day.
Black bears have also been making their presence known in Ohio, a state that rarely sees these furry creatures.
And in rural Brooklyn, Conn., a girl bitten by a fox in May had to undergo a series of vaccinations to prevent rabies.
So, how do we keep our children safe?
Wildlife experts say parents should monitor their children in outdoor surroundings, even familiar surroundings, such as backyards. Parents should warn children that animals are unpredictable and may “appear” safe, but suddenly attack without warning. A car horn, barking dog, or excited children can trigger an animal’s fight or flight behavior, according to wildlife experts.
Humans should stay at least 100 yards away from bears and 25 yards from other large animals, according to U.S. government safety guidelines. Parents should warn children that the consequences of approaching wildlife, which carry various diseases including rabies, can be serious, including death.
Adults and children should seek immediate attention following any animal attack or bite. Rabies is fatal if not immediately treated.
Government wildlife officials also say children should:
— Avoid playing in or near dense cover
— Refrain from squealing or making other animal-like noises while hiking or playing
— Be warned not to approach animals, especially baby animals
— Never pet, feed, or pose for a photo with a wild animal, even if the animal appears tame
Recent coyote sightings in other states:
— DETROIT: A coyote, later found to be pregnant, led two animal protection officials and police on a downtown chase last month past a federal courthouse and beneath parked cars before heading toward the Detroit River and being caught.
— CHICAGO: A coyote sauntered into a downtown Quizno's sandwich shop through a propped-open front door, then lay down in a cooler stocked with fruit juice and soda. It later was released into the wild.
— KANSAS CITY, Mo.: A coyote wandered into a Select Comfort store in an open-air mall, then cowered in a corner and under several mattresses. Two state conservation agents subdued and snared the coyote, then carted it away to be released in the countryside near Kansas City International Airport.
— ATLANTA: In the Atlanta suburb of Norcross, reported sightings of coyotes, including downtown and a city park, prompted a town hall meeting this month to discuss the issue and allay community fears.