How To Keep Yourself and Your Home Safe Around Animal Predators

Whether your home is near cougars, coyotes, bears, bobcats or wolves, here are some preventative measures to peacefully co-exist.

Catching a glimpse of a large predator can be a once-in-a-lifetime moment of awe, but seeing one in your yard can also be frightening. Although attacks on humans are rare, encounters between humans and potentially dangerous animals are on the rise.

Wildlife habitat continues to be reduced and fragmented, so clearly wildlife and human populations are encountering each other more than ever before,” says Elizabeth Fleming, senior Florida representative with Defenders of Wildlife.

“In a place like Florida, we have tremendous biological diversity, but unfortunately we also have good weather and low taxes, so people are moving here in droves.”

Habitat loss from new neighborhoods is one reason we’re seeing more predators. Other reasons include the boom in outdoor recreation, the drought in the West, and new infrastructure like oil wells. All these force animals to change migration routes and look for new areas to find food and raise their young.

Because they may harm us, predators are often scorned or viewed as inconvenient. But they play significant roles in maintaining balanced ecosystems.

Besides enhancing gene pools by taking out weak and injured animals, some species like coyotes and bears are even vital to seed dispersal. The well-being of humans also depends on healthy ecosystems, so it’s in our best interest to learn to coexist with these predators.

“Some people call us and say, ‘Come remove that animal,’ ” says Fleming. “But that animal lives here. People have this idea that there’s some magical uninhabited wilderness someplace, and I wish there were. But it sure isn’t in Florida.”

A lack of predators in ecosystems can negatively affect humans in more direct ways as well. Patti Sowka, executive director of the Living with Wildlife Foundation, says killing predators allows prey species like deer, rabbits, mice and voles to overpopulate areas and decimate vegetation.

“In turn,” she says, “[that] results in a need to try to control [prey species] because they are eating our landscapes, gardens, crops and other things valued by humans.”

Here are some keys to living safely with animal predators.

Never Feed Wildlife

“Feeding wildlife is the worst thing people can do,” says Fleming. When an animal associates food with humans, it can lose its natural fear and become aggressive. That’s dangerous for us and leads to problem animals being killed.

In many states it’s illegal to feed certain species, including bears, raccoons, alligators and even sandhill cranes. It’s better to not feed any, regardless of the law.

Keep Food Sources Secure

Garbage, bird feeders, fruit trees and dog food all attract wildlife. So pick your fruit regularly or fence it off, take down bird feeders after winter, and don’t put the dog’s food bowl outside.

In bear country, bear-resistant trash cans are essential and are often required by local ordinances. If you have beehives, small livestock, chickens or a garden, consider putting them behind electric fencing. Predators will usually move on if abundant food can’t be easily obtained.

“Obviously we know trash attracts bears, but it also attracts raccoons, rats and other small animals that in turn attract bobcats, coyotes and panthers,” says Fleming. “Everybody’s going to follow the prey, so if the garbage or pet food is luring in some form of prey, a predator may be close behind.”

Eliminate Hiding Places

Predators often rely on the art of surprise. Discourage them by enclosing any open spaces below your porch and deck. Trim back or clear dense and low-lying vegetation near your house.

Put your night vision on equal footing by installing motion-activated outdoor lights and/or sprinklers and illuminating walking areas.

Build an Enclosure

If you own goats, sheep, dogs or chickens, consider a predator-resistant enclosure with a sturdy roof. In bear country, add electric fencing.

Some conservation nonprofits, including Defenders of Wildlife, may help with funding and construction. Here are applications for funding for panther-resistant enclosures and grizzly-resistant enclosures.

Be a Habitat Hero

Some predators rely on expansive territories and interact with hundreds of species, from beetles to foxes to fish. Supporting land conservation and restoration programs helps give predators the space they need to steer clear of humans and hold together the health of ecosystems.

“If we can protect the large expanses of habitat they need, then we’re protecting land for all of the other animals that share the habitat,” says Fleming. “Now you’re talking about helping landscapes and watersheds, and even conserving our own clean drinking water.”

Don’t Contribute to an Encounter

Avoid running and hiking near dawn and dusk when predators are most active, and always go with a friend. Bring pets in at night, and don’t let them (or your kids) roam far in front of you. Be especially cautious around predator mothers with young. And if you don’t know who your wild neighbors are, ask around.

“People move here and are stunned to find out we have bears and panthers in Florida,” says Fleming. “It’s a constant challenge to make sure newcomers are aware.”

Karuna Eberl
A freelance writer and indie film producer, Karuna Eberl covers the outdoors and nature side of DIY, exploring wildlife, green living, travel and gardening for Family Handyman. She also writes FH’s Eleven Percent column, about dynamic women in the construction workforce. Some of her other credits include the March cover of Readers Digest, National Parks, National Geographic Channel and Atlas Obscura. Karuna and her husband are also on the final stretch of renovating an abandoned house in a near-ghost town in rural Colorado. When they’re not working, you can find them hiking and traveling the backroads, camping in their self-converted van.