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How To…Deal With Wild Animals

You can refer this type of call to another agency, handle it yourself, or as a last resort, euthanize the animal.

March 01, 2018  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Bears are not a common reason for police calls, but it's a good idea to have a plan for them in bear habitat areas. (Photo: Getty Images)
Bears are not a common reason for police calls, but it's a good idea to have a plan for them in bear habitat areas. (Photo: Getty Images)

No matter where you patrol, inevitably you will be dispatched to some type of wild animal call. In my 30-plus-year career, I handled everything Florida had to throw at me. Some of the incidents were funny and others were more like "what the hell was I thinking?"

On the lower end of the scale I responded to calls that involved all types of snakes, emotionally unbalanced raccoons, and an extremely angry iguana that clawed my uniform sleeve to shreds and beat me silly with its tail. On the more dangerous end of the scale I helped handle a crazed emu and looked for an escaped lion named Nala from JungleLand.

You can be dispatched to pretty much any type of wild animal call. If you can think of it, somebody somewhere has had to respond to it. In certain ways, I've had it easy in Florida. I have never had to deal with wild animals like brown bears, mountain lions, or moose. So instead of offering you a litany of techniques for dozens of different animals, I will share with you a common sense framework that you can build upon based on the unique situations you find yourself in.

Unless you have some specific training in the handling of wild animals, you only have three operational approaches to handling your call. You can refer it to another agency, you can handle it yourself, or when left with no other alternative, you euthanize the animal.

Refer to Another Agency

Referring your call to another agency may sound like a great solution, but sometimes it's like pulling teeth; they don't want to come out. To limit their excuses, the first order of business is familiarizing yourself with your agency's policy and procedures on who you call and when. Who to call depends on your situation. Sometimes it's your local animal control; sometimes it's your state agency's wildlife management officer; and other times it's a private organization that specializes in animal rescues.

Gators are common in Southern wetlands, especially in Florida and Louisiana. (Photo: Getty Images)
Gators are common in Southern wetlands, especially in Florida and Louisiana. (Photo: Getty Images)

In other words, knowing who to call is very important to get the right response. Knowing what the agency you're calling can and can't do is equally important. Back when I was still working, our animal control would only respond to a handful of calls. And although they were trained in the operation of tranquilizer darts, they were not allowed to use them.

One of the most typical wild animal calls I handled involved alligators. The state agency that is responsible for wild animal calls is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They would not respond for a nuisance alligator call unless the alligator measured six feet or longer. But don't think if you always say the alligator is six feet long that you'll be lucky and they'll immediately respond; they know how to play the game too.

Other options include calling your contract animal trappers or finding some private organization that will help. For planning purposes, keep in mind that response times are usually slow. You may have to sit there for a while before they arrive. Chances are you will have to stay there until they are done as well.

Handle It Yourself

You might find yourself in a situation where the cavalry isn't anywhere near you. Your first priority is the safety of those affected by their proximity to the animal, including yourself. You need to keep people away from the area and try your very best to limit the animal's movements. In other words, make every effort to contain the animal until you can figure out what to do. The last thing you want is the animal leaving your position and heading deeper into a neighborhood or vanishing completely only to resurface as a new threat a few hours later.

Cougars can be the reason for emergency calls in the West. (Photo: Getty Images)
Cougars can be the reason for emergency calls in the West. (Photo: Getty Images)

What to do once you have it contained will depend on what animal you are dealing with, what type of training you have had, and who will end up dealing with the animal. There will be times when creativity and thinking out of the box will rule the day. Sometimes that means throwing a garbage can over a snake. Other times it's as easy as closing a door or a fence gate. And then there will be times when you just redirect traffic, keep gawkers away, and keep eyes on the animal from a safe distance.

There is nothing wrong with holding what you have until a supervisor arrives to take over. What options you have will depend upon your agency policy and the help available from your local community. I have handled many calls where someone in the neighborhood knew more about dealing with the animal than I did. Don't be afraid to reach out to anyone who can help you formulate a plan.

Killing the Animal

Sometimes you are left with no other option than to put the animal down. Once the animal becomes a threat you can't control, you must act. It's no different than any other situation where someone is facing great bodily harm or being killed; you have a duty to intervene. If you do have to destroy a wild animal, you need to use the most humane way possible. And by that, I mean use the quickest way possible to minimize its suffering.

Don't use a handgun when the better choice is a rifle or shotgun. Determine the best shot placement for a quick kill and aim there. If you don't know where to shoot, ask someone who does or take the time to look it up. Sometimes it's advisable to use special ammunition that is proven to dispatch animals quickly. For example, I always carried slugs for my shotgun long before it was written into my agency's policy.

If you don't have a policy that covers special ammunition, try to get a memo signed authorizing you to carry it. If your agency won't do that, then ask permission to do so on a case by case basis. I prefer asking over the radio or on a taped line. That way you are covered if someone higher up starts asking questions later.

Some Final Suggestions

Some officers take for granted how they are going to approach the animal. It's not always a simple task because the animal may have moved or be hiding. Sometimes the animal surprises you. There are a few things to remember if you run into a wild animal unexpectedly. In a nutshell: don't panic, give the animal a way to escape, and slowly and quietly back away until you are ready to enact your plan.

Moose can be very dangerous, especially in traffic situations. (Photo: Getty Images)
Moose can be very dangerous, especially in traffic situations. (Photo: Getty Images)

Don't panic if you come across an animal unexpectedly. If you panic, the wild animal could misinterpret it as an offensive act. Most wild animals, regardless of size, will not attack unless they feel threatened, have their offspring with them, or are injured or sick.

Don't box the animal in and try to contain it until you are ready to do so and can do it safely. If you are not ready to act, give the animal a way to escape. It is safer to do this than to corner a wild animal and have to fight it. For example, I have seen instances where wild hogs have injured hunters and their dogs because the hog felt it was cornered. Bigger animals like bears will fight to the death in order to escape so don't give it a reason to think it's in danger.

Stay calm, and move away slowly and quietly. Keep an eye on the animal until you are safely away. The more distance between the animal and you, the better. Once you are safe, then you can regroup and enact your plan.

The reality is that most law enforcement officers are ill equipped to handle anything but the simplest of wild animal calls. The best way to handle any wild animal is to call someone who has the experience and training to do so.

Amaury Murgado retired a senior lieutenant from the Osceola County (FL) Sheriff's Office with over 30 years of experience. He also retired from the Army Reserve as a master sergeant. He holds a Master of Political Science degree from the University of Central Florida.


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