Urban Human – Animal Encounters

22 Sep, 2020

What can you do if you receive an unwanted visitor?

Author: Mira Amtmann, Junior Advisor

Rapid urbanisation and habitat modification has redefined the lines between cities and forests. Consequently, wildlife living in proximity to such expanding areas has to adapt in order to survive in urban habitats. Habitat fragmentation causes these mammals and reptiles to stray into and adapt to an urban environment due to easy access to prey/food and shelter.

Which (wild) animals do you see in your day to day life? Have you had an unexpected visitor? A monkey entering your home? A snake in your bathroom or a bird in your living room? Have you seen an injured animal on the street?

Do you know what to do in such a case?

In general, there are 24×7 Rapid Response Units from different organisations, which attend to distress calls from members of the public about wild animals in peril or caught in conflict situations. These organisations are experts in handling animals. It is advised that one shouldn’t try to help or rescue animals yourself as you can get seriously injured or ill. Some such organisations are: Wildlife Trust of India, Wildlife SOS, People for Animals, Animal aid united, Friendicoes, etc.

Snakes, monkeys and birds are some of the most common examples cited of human-animal encounters in cities in this article. However, this list and measures are neither exhaustive nor exclusive.

Encounters and measures

India is home to a variety of snake species ranging from extremely venomous snakes like the Cobra and Common Krait, to relatively harmless and non-venomous ones like the Wolf snake and Rat snake. Largely misrepresented and often perceived as dangerous, many reptiles are met with fear and hostility, leading to incidents of human conflict with this species. While seeking out shelter in cooler places or easily available prey, snakes often find their way into houses. During the monsoon season snakes find their way into houses, since it is the mating season for frogs.

It is important to remember that a snake never attacks unless forced to defend itself. Nonetheless, it is extremely important to take certain precautions while dealing with snakes, especially those that are venomous.

Malabar Pit Viper caught in inhabited area ©GIZ/Mira Amtmann

  • If you see a snake, please keep your distance, do not try to touch it or try to contain it. Snakes are very common can be seen around houses and yards. They are usually passing through and will be gone within a few hours. Keeping your lawn short and yard free of debris will reduce the likelihood of snakes in your yard. If you stay away from the snake, it presents no immediate danger. While many snakes are not venomous, keep children and pets away from snakes at all times.
  • If you find a snake in your house, please make sure all people, children and pets are moved into another room until the situation is resolved. If possible, safely isolate the snake in the room you found it by closing the doors to the room and putting towels along the bottom of the doors. Call for an organisation that is providing snake rescues in your neighbourhood.

Rhesus Macaque drinking aggressively demanded soft drink ©GIZ/Mira Amtmann

The fast growth of cities and the destruction of natural forests has reduced habitat for macaques, additionally the practice of feeding monkeys have taught them to take food from humans in one way or the other. You can easily find yourself in a situation were monkeys steal, aggressively demand, even trade food against for eg. your glasses they snatched while coming into your house and empty your fridge. 2015 more than 1900 monkey bites have been reported in Delhi. These bites and scratches can transmit rabies.

Possible measures can be taken by each of us to reduce the risk of a monkey encounter:

  • Don’t feed monkeys
  • Don’t make direct eye contact
  • Don’t display food openly
  • Store waste in an inaccessible manner and keep garbage bins outside only on the day you intend to dispose it
  • Installing mesh or iron grills in front of windows
  • Keep all doors of the house shut in your absence, including the door to the roof/balcony/terrace
  • Try to limit food waste
  • Don’t leave children alone while eating outside and teach them to be aware (terrace, garden, etc.)

In case of an encounter, few tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t show your teeth to monkeys, you would indirectly challenge them
  • Step slowly out of their way but don’t run
  • If you’re in a safe place, scare them away with loud noise
  • Don’t cross path between a mother and an infant monkey

Birds visiting India during migratory season ©GIZ/Carrot films

Birds are often found injured due to kite manjhas (glass-coated thread), telephone lines or victims of electrocution. Chinese manjha – a synthetic kite string coated in glass or metal – was banned across India in 2017 by the National Green Tribunal due to wounds caused by it which resulted in the injury and deaths of birds, animals and even humans. Alternatively even plain cotton strings, which are legal, still pose a danger to birds. When a bird flies into them they can get disoriented and fall from a great height. Even when kites are trapped in trees or abandoned, they can still harm animals if they get caught in the thread. The migratory bird season can be considered when flying kites and so can avoiding flying them in the morning and evening when birds are the most active.

You can also save the helpline numbers of active organisations in your area offering wildlife and animal rescues to your phone and pin it an accessible place for the family, like the fridge, the entrance door and add it to a list of emergency numbers. Keeping calm and cautious and following basic precautions like the ones cited in this article can help defuse a stressful situation and protect both the animal and the humans from conflict.


The views expressed in this post are purely those of the author.


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