Wild creatures are shy creatures, at least where humans are concerned. They learn from their parents to be very mistrustful of humans, because they have no way of knowing whether or not we mean them harm. When faced with a threat, wild animals believe they will survive only by fleeing, fighting, flirting or freezing!
Fleeing, or running away, is by far the most popular way wild animals respond to danger. Because they do not know that you mean no harm, most wild animals will try to get away from you. It is strange to think that the animal running away is even more frightened than you are!
Animals in a nest or den feel cornered and will defend themselves if approached, especially if they have young to protect. By defending themselves they are using the next favourite choice: fighting.
Animals may try to fight by threatening, especially when they cannot get away quickly enough. Wild animals use the same sorts of defence measures as their domestic cousins; they bite, peck, scratch, kick and flap their wings. Snakes are a good example of animals that fight, perhaps because they are not as good at running away as those animals with legs or wings. If they are unable to escape, snakes will try to bite whatever is threatening them.
Flirting is a way wild animals trick the person or creature threatening them or their babies. If a bird, such as a plover that nests on the ground, sees a predator coming towards its nest, it will behave in a way that leads the predator away. It flaps one of its wings while moving away from its nest. This behaviour makes the predator think the parent bird is injured. The predator begins to hunt the parent who flies away as soon as it is wise to do so. Lured by the promise of an easy meal, the predator is tricked into moving away from the plover’s nest.
Freezing, like flirting, is used by an animal only if there is no escape and if there is no way to defend itself. When they decide to freeze, animals lie down and don’t move a muscle. They sometimes look as though they are dead. Birds caught in a trap or net will sometimes freeze and may appear very calm as you approach them, even though they are extremely scared. By playing dead, they may be able to fool predators, especially those who enjoy a good hunt, into leaving them alone.
Although it is wonderful to watch them in the wild, it is safest to avoid wild animals where possible. Injured wild animals are especially fearful because they know that they have less chance of escaping, and so are more likely to hurt you if you get too close. Remember wild animals don’t know that you want to help. Instead, they expect you are going to hurt them, so if you find an injured wild animal always call an adult for help.
Cats and kittens sometimes carry germs that can make you sick. Some humans get itchy eyes or sneeze when they have been playing with cats. It is always best to wash your hands after playing with an animal.