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How To Talk To Kids About Animal Attacks

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Recent tragic events involving children and animals — namely the death of gorilla Harambe at a Cincinnati zoo and the alligator attack of a 2-year-old child at a Disney resort in Orlando — likely alter the perception and understanding of animals among kids and adults alike. Who wouldn’t be shaken to the core?

This early, parents need to gear up and teach their children what they should do in the face of scary, potentially deadly animal encounters.

How To Approach Animals And Risky Situations

National Geographic lists two important tips on how to talk to the little ones about animal attacks:

Emphasize respect. Jack Hanna, director emeritus of Ohio’s Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, urges parents to talk to the tiny tots about expectations when they enter a zoo or a wildlife center.

“This is the animal’s home. You don’t yell. You don’t throw peanuts. You respect its home,” he said, adding this also applies whenever kids pet a dog or deal with non-zoo creatures.

Be honest about animals’ nature. Aside from reassuring a child that these unfortunate events are very rare and that dangers can be avoided, helping them better understand an animal’s biology will be key. Alligators, for instance, naturally hunt by instinct and will catch as well as consume anything that they can.

This isn’t to say that these animals shouldn’t be portrayed as mindless killers; instead teach them that predation, animal defense and similar behaviors are part of nature’s design.

Low Incidence, Decent Possibility

The chances of a horrible death due to animal encounters remain very low. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) noted (PDF), for example, that of 383 unprovoked alligator attacks in the state since 1948, only 23 were deadly and 126 were considered minor.

In the U.S., too, bees as well as other insects — and surprisingly, even cows — kill way more humans than alligators do.

It should never be forgotten, however, that children still do fall prey to animals sometimes. A famous case is that of 2-month-old Azaria Chamberlain, who was snatched and killed by a dingo while on a family camping trip in Australia.

The recent horrible events can be transformed into teaching moments, according to Melina Gerosa Bellows, who helms NatGeo’s media for children. Parents should reassure their kids that at the end of the day, mom and dad are looking out for them and ensuring their safety.

Photo: Pardee Ave | Flickr

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