January 25, 2021
Never underestimate the power of a hike. Hiking lowers blood pressure, improves balance, and clears the mind.
But before you hit the trails, familiarize yourself with wild animals in Florida and what to do if you encounter one.
Let’s review the best hiking safety tips for avoiding dangerous situations with Florida hogs, snakes, and bears.
Wild hogs roam throughout 67 Florida counties. They can reach up to six feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds. They are possibly the most dangerous animals one may encounter. Hogs are most commonly found in pine forests, near freshwater marshes, or open agricultural areas.
Hogs are most active at dawn and dusk. Always be aware of your surroundings, but particularly at these times.
If you come across a hog on the Florida trails, stay calm. Hogs attack humans for defense, to protect piglets, or because they feel threatened.
Hogs cannot climb, so the best way to escape an attack is to get at least six feet off the ground. Find the nearest tree or boulder and climb up it. The hog may follow but will eventually leave.
If you cannot escape, try to remain standing throughout the attack. Most assaults last less than one minute. Holding your ground can prevent a serious head or neck injury from the hog’s tusks.
There are 44 native species of snakes roaming throughout Florida. Fortunately, only six are venomous.
To prevent dangerous encounters, be aware of your environment. Accidentally stepping on or near a snake is how most bites occur. Snakes may be coiled on a rock along the trail to keep warm but are more likely laying under rocks or logs.
When crossing a log across the trail, step on the log looking on the other side for snakes. Stepping over the log without looking may startle a snake causing it to react in self-defense. Simply looking out for them will not only keep you safe but also connect you with the natural environment you are there to enjoy.
Along with snakes, many hikers are particularly concerned about bears. There are approximately 11,000 black bears throughout Florida. When you’re enjoying a hike, stay aware of your surroundings as mentioned above.
The good news is black bears are more docile than their cousins, the brown bear (grizzly). In most cases, a black bear is going to be more interested in your food than you. They naturally would prefer not to interact with humans.
When hiking or camping, clean up trash and seal open containers. Don’t leave food behind for the bears, as that will encourage them to interact with humans.
If you come across a black bear on your hike, stay calm. Move away sideways as slowly as possible. Keep an eye on the bear, and whatever you do, don’t run.
If the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Try to make yourself look bigger by raising your arms above your head or shouting. Stand on a nearby boulder if possible. The movements and noises should intimidate the bear.
There is pepper spray designed to deter bear attacks. It shoots a fog up to 30 feet. The idea is to create an unpleasant area between you and the bear. It is more used out west where brown bears are an issue, but some choose to carry a can in the eastern U.S.
Hiking is a great way to explore the great outdoors as long as you follow hiking safety protocols. Be smart and stay safe on the Florida trails.
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