Wildlife Safety in the South

Our national forests provide habitat for wild animals, which can be upset by human presence and can unexpectedly become aggressive.

Do not give them a reason or an opportunity to attack. Always keep your distance. Wildlife experts recommend keeping at least 100 yards away from bears and 25 yards from other large animals.

The consequences of approaching wildlife can be serious. You are responsible for your own safety as well as the safety of wildlife. Wild animals should be allowed to forage for food, care for their young, sleep and play without human disturbance.


  • Approaching or feeding wild animals is never appropriate.
  • Wild animals (including deer, bison, and elk) are individualistic and unpredictable.
  • A car horn, barking dog, or excited children can trigger an animal into fight or flight behavior.
  • Both the females and males of most wildlife species are equally dangerous. Always maintain a safe distance.
  • Wash hands regularly to prevent harmful diseases .
  • Bear Safety

    Black Bear

    Bears are opportunists by nature. In the wild, they feed on whatever is available. Food odors and improperly stored garbage will attract bears. Bears begin to seek out human food if it is accessible. 

    We must all do our part to store personal food and other smellable products in an approved bear-resistant container when hiking, and dispose of trash in bear-resistant dumpsters where provided at developed recreation areas.

    While bears are attracted to any edible food, they also might try to feast on items we might not consider edible:

    • toothpaste
    • shampoo
    • lotion
    • soap
    • cooking utensils
    • empty cans
    • wrappers
    • pet food
    • garbage
    • petroleum products (including fuel)

    For more information on food storage, visit the Bear-Resistant Food Canister page.

    Although bears are naturally afraid of humans, they lose this fear as they begin to associate human scents with the reward of food. Black bears can become a threat to humans, property and themselves—a pattern that normally ends with their death.

    Protect yourself and protect the black bears by storing trash and food in safe locations when you visit a national forest. Learn more about being bear aware.‚Äč

  • Alligators

    Alligator in water

    On the Atlantic Coast, alligators can be found from Florida to coastal North Carolina. Alligators are also found in the Upper Coastal Plain, which includes the Central Savannah River Area of Georgia and South Carolina. Be careful around alligators--they have been known to attack humans!

    • Alligators should never be approached.
    • Don’t swim in areas inhabited by alligators. Avoid swimming at night or dusk. Stay in restricted, designated swimming areas.
    • Avoid shorelines with thick vegetation.
    • Never feed, entice or approach an alligator. Never throw food, such as bait, in the water or on shore.
    • Do not allow pets to swim in areas with alligators. Pets resemble the alligator's natural prey, and may attract them.
    • It is illegal to possess, handle or harass an alligator.
  • Snakes


    Snakes live in a wide variety of habitats including forests, swamps, grasslands, deserts and both fresh and salt water. Some are active at night, others during the day. Snakes are predators and eat a wide variety of animals, including rodents, insects, birds' eggs and young birds. Snakes are coldblooded and must move to a suitable surrounding environment to regulate their body temperature. They can't survive extreme summer heat for more than 10-20 minutes and are rarely found in the open. They hibernate in the winter and may also be inactive periodically during hot summer weather. Before venturing out, familiarize yourself with the snakes of your area.

    How To Avoid Snakebites

    • Do not tease or harass snakes.
    • Wear long pants and proper foot gear, especially at night.
    • Try as much as possible not to surprise a snake. Stay on trails. Watch where you sit and where you place your hands and feet, especially when climbing or stepping over fences, large rocks and logs or when collecting firewood.

    How To Treat Snakebites

    • If someone is bitten by a snake, call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.
    • Keep the snakebite victim still, as movement helps the venom spread through the body.
    • Keep the injured body part motionless and just lower than heart level.
    • Keep the victim warm, calm and at rest.
    • Do not allow the person to eat or drink anything.
  • Ticks


    Weather conditions seem to have the greatest effect on the tick population. After a mild winter, the tick population is high. Ticks are worse in early spring, when they climb into brush and wait for a chance to attach to a host and feed on the host's blood. Ticks can carry a variety of diseases. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease are two of the known diseases spread by ticks that may affect pets and livestock, as well as people.

    Recreating in Tick Country

    • Wear light-colored clothing, which allows you to see ticks on your clothing. Tuck your pant legs into your socks so ticks cannot crawl up the inside of your pant legs.
    • Apply repellents to discourage tick attachment. Repellents containing permethrin can be sprayed on boots and clothing, and will last for several days. Repellents containing DEET (n, n-diethyl-mtoluamide) can be applied to the skin, but will last only a few hours before reapplication is necessary. Read labels carefully and use as directed on children.
    • Sprinkle sulphur on your socks, boots and pant legs.
    • Stay on trails where the chance of picking up ticks is less likely. Avoid tall grass and brush.
    • Routinely check your hair and body for ticks. Conduct a body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas by searching your entire body for ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Carefully remove any tick you find on your body, according to CDC recommendations. If there is any indication of redness or swelling, go to a doctor immediately and take the tick with you in a plastic bag for identification.
    • Know Before You Go: What to Do if You've Been Bitten by a Tick
  • Spiders

    Black Widow

    Spiders deserve more respect than we give them, and spider bites are often misdiagnosed in the world of First Aid, as a result. Plenty of red, raised welts have been identified, either correctly or incorrectly, as spider bites. Despite the belief by many victims that spiders are responsible for their pain, spider bites are often harmless. Indeed, most true spider bites go unnoticed and untreated. In the United States, black widow spiders are often considered the most venomous. Brown recluse spiders have garnered plenty of attention in the last ten years or so. Despite the large wounds often associated with brown recluse, they are much less likely to cause significant injury than black widows. Brown recluse are also misdiagnosed quite a bit, with abscesses attributed to them that they didn't cause. Brown Recluse spiders are only found in the Southeast United States.

  • Scorpions


    Scorpions are found worldwide, although those found here in the South are not considered dangerous. For most, a scorpion sting feels like a bee sting. Generally, fewer than 5% of stings result in signs and symptoms requiring medical attention. However, if you have known allergies to bees or other stinging insects, always carry antihistimenes and/or Epi-pens in your first aid kit.

    To prevent being stung by a scorpion:

    • Wear protective footwear, especially at night.
    • Exercise caution when lifting rocks, logs and when collecting firewood.
    • Do not handle scorpions with bare hands.
    • Shake out footwear, clothing and bedding to expel unwanted creepy crawlies. Don’t sleep directly on the ground when camping.

    If you are stung by a scorpion:

    • Apply a cold compress immediately for pain and swelling.
    • Stings are usually immediate and intense, burning pain at the sting site that lasts about 30 minutes. Mild inflammation may be present, with the sting mark not always visible.
    • Seek medical attention in an allergic reaction such as breathing difficulties, stomach pain or extreme swelling and pain, vomiting, or shock.
    • Use of prescribed medications such as Epi-pen or over the counter anti-histimines may be useful.
  • Fire Ants

    Fire ant

    Most ants are merely an annoyance while camping, hiking or picnicking. However, the red fire ant poses the most serious risk of any ant in North America because of its aggressive nature and the potency of its sting. Fire ants are dark reddish-brown and only a fraction of an inch in size. A fire ant colony will contain ants of a variety of sizes, whereas most other ants are uniform in size. When attacking, the fire ant stinger injects venom. It is fatal to small animals, and very uncomfortable to humans. It produces a burning sensation; it's been said it feels like fire. Small red bumps will appear on the skin and be annoyingly itchy. The venom from fire ants can actually be deadly to persons who are sensitive or allergic. Fire ants can be avoided if you know how to identify them. A fire ant nest might look like a sandy mound, a dome or a bald spot on the soil; but the colony is likely to extend several feet underground. Just because you're a few steps away from a surface mound of loose soil does not mean you're standing at a safe distance from a fire ant nest. Or, the nest might be invisible, hiding under objects like logs or rocks.

    • Watch out for mounds of loose soil that don't seem to fit in with other surroundings.
    • Avoid camping at the base of trees, especially if you notice rotting wood. Don't set up tents with floors on top of ant mounds or try to coexist with them in any way. Do not disturb ant mounds.
    • Keep your camp site clean. If you encounter ants, leave them alone and find a new camping site. Don't try to get rid of them.
    • If you or someone in your group is sensitive or allergic to fire ants, always bring appropriate medication in case of a serious reaction.
  • Mosquitoes

    Mosquito on arm

    There is a risk of mosquito bite every time you enter a forest, or work in and around the woods. In addition to being uncomfortable, mosquito bites can cause illnesses, including several types of encephalitis, dengue and West Nile virus. The chance that any one person is going to become ill from a single mosquito bite remains low. Preventing mosquito bites is the best way to reduce the risk of infection from the diseases mosquitoes can carry.

    • Apply an insect repellent as necessary. Read labels carefully and use as directed on children.
    • Treat your clothes with permethrin repellents. Do not use permethrins on your skin.
    • Wear loose-fitting clothes to help prevent mosquitoes from reaching the skin. Whenever possible, wear long-sleeves, socks and long pants. Wear clothing that helps you blend in with the background. Mosquitoes hone in on color contrast and movement.
    • Avoid perfumes, colognes, hair sprays, lotions and soaps, as they all attract mosquitoes.
    • Avoid lingering in places where mosquitoes lay their eggs, usually around standing water.
    • Wash mosquito bites with mild soap and water.
  • Bees and Wasps


    Bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets can be either a minor nuisance or a serious danger. Complications are often minor, such as the development of infection at the sting site requiring treatment with antibiotic. Irritation, redness and swelling would be mild reactions. Allergic reactions include swelling of the lips or throat, breathing problems, faintness or confusion. Between one and two million people in the United States are very allergic to stinging insect venom, and may experience a very severe reaction that requires immediate medical attention.

    Safety Tips

    • If you know you are allergic to a bee, wasp, hornet or yellow jacket stings, carry medication. Let others know that you may have an allergic reactions, and that you have medication.
    • Apply insect repellent containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) when you're outdoors. Treat your clothes with permethrin repellents. Do not use permethrins on your skin.
    • Avoid heavy, flowery perfumes; colognes or scents. They may attract bees. Never strike or swing at a wasp or a bee.
    • Stay away from nests. Do not try to destroy nests. 
  • Adventuring With Your Pup

    Dog on a leash

    Taking your dog camping or hiking can be a great experience, but there are a few considerations to remember. Dogs can get easily distracted by wild animals and get lost while chasing them in the woods. In an outdoor environment, your dog will most likely experience an increase in physical activity. You should also take your dog’s personality into consideration.

    When You Go

    • Keep your pet on a leash and controlled at all times.
    • Give your dog plenty of food and water, rest and shade, and watch for signs of stress and fatigue.
    • Don't leave your pet's food out in the open when he's not eating it. It could attract unwanted insects and wildlife.
    • If you encounter wild animals, respect them by moving your dog away from the area.
    • Be prepared for pet medical needs.
    • Carry an ID tag and recent photo of your dog in case it gets lost. Ensure you know the area when searching for a lost pet. Take your dog’s favorite dog treat and favorite noisy toy, in case you embark on a search.