Many people in Florida, especially those who are not natives of the state, fear the wildlife. That makes sense, because we tend to fear what we don't have an understanding of. However, Florida has so many wonderful nature opportunities that you don't want to let the fear of alligators, snakes, or bears hold you back from getting out there and enjoying it. The goal is to gain a better understanding of these animals so that you can feel more comfortable being out in nature.
My family obviously spends a lot of time in nature. We camp, hike, bike, swim the springs, etc. We don't have a fear of the Florida wildlife, because we have made efforts to learn to understand it. From the time our kids were toddlers, we started attending educational classes at nature centers, so we could learn about Florida wildlife. The more you learn about it, the less fear you will have. You will and should always have awareness, of course, but you want to move past a fear that is holding you back from enjoying the Florida nature opportunities.
Here are some tips for getting over the fear of Florida wildlife:
- Look at the facts. People have an irrational fear of Florida alligators, bears, and snakes. The facts don't support the fear that they have. In fact, there are more people in America killed and seriously hurt each year by dogs than by alligators, bears, sharks, and snakes combined. That's the truth! Dogs hurt millions per year (enough to need medical care and be counted in the statistic), while the combined number of wildlife attacks pales in comparison. It's not even close! Most wildlife want nothing to do with humans and will keep their distance.
- Get educated. Learn everything you can about Florida wildlife so that you feel more comfortable around it and know what to do to keep you and your family safer. By taking educational classes at nature centers (which are usually offered free of charge), your family can learn about the animals, what to do if they encounter them, and how to reduce run-ins with them.
- Get more educated. Years ago, I took the Florida Master Naturalist program and became a Florida Master Naturalist. It's a wonderful program offered through the state. You take three (or more) modules, learning about all different aspects of Florida nature. You spend hours hiking, out on the water, learning about wildlife, and more. It is a fantastic program that I loved doing and highly recommend to others. It's offered throughout the state, so no matter where you live in the state you should be able to take the program to dive deeper into learning about Florida's nature.
- Spend time outside. The more time you spend out in nature the less fearful you will be. It may seem scarier to think about Florida's wildlife while you are sitting in your living room, but when you get outside and spend time out there you see that you come back each time in one piece. And you feel more at peace! The more time you spend in nature, the more comfortable you become, because your stress and fear fades away.
- Reduce risks. There are things you can do to help reduce your risks regarding Florida wildlife (many of these are taught in the above programs I mentioned). They include understanding Florida wildlife, what to do if you encounter wildlife, and taking precautions to reduce run-ins with them. These actions can include always being aware of your surroundings, only swimming in designated swimming areas, never leaving food behind (even accidently dropped food feeds wildlife, making them less fearful of humans), and using a bear bell on your backpack while hiking (or just make some noise here and there by clapping your hands). Additionally, and I know some people don't like this one, but leave the dog at home. Dogs will increase your risks of unsavory run-ins with wildlife, because near the water they seen as prey by alligators. If you do take your dog hiking, always keep him leashed and don't allow him to run up ahead for his safety and the safety of other hikers. Also, don't allow him to go into bodies of water. Dogs get eaten by alligators in Florida, it happens!
Taking these steps will help you feel more confident about being out in nature and you will become less fearful of Florida wildlife. Florida has so many wonderful ways to spend time in nature. You want to be able to get out there and enjoy it, without letting fear of the wildlife keep you from having a great time. In my family, we are not fearful of Florida wildlife. We are mindful of it, which makes a big difference.