Why Are Wild Animals Unpredictable? (4 Reasons Explained)

Why Are Wild Animals Unpredictable
Fact Checked and Reviewed by: Mark Rhodes, Ph.D. - Wildlife Biologist
Dr. Mark Rhodes holds an MS in Fisheries and Wildlife along with a Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology. He helps maintain our editorial standards of accuracy and quality. You can read more about Dr. Rhodes here.

Despite the many reasons not to, it’s not uncommon for people to keep exotic pets. In fact, there are an estimated 5,000-7,000 tigers kept as pets around the world, more than the number in the wild!

Among the reasons not to is the risk of animal attacks. Between 1990 and 2011, there were 1,610 exotic pet incidents, and those are only the ones reported! What’s one reason these animals may have attacked? Because wild animals are unpredictable.

So, why are wild animals unpredictable?

Wild animals are unpredictable because they are individuals and you cannot predict how they will respond when approached. They can feel threatened at any time which might cause them to act aggressively. Humans often overlook or ignore these signs of unpredictable behavior. Plus, illness or disease might cause an animal to be unpredictable. 

Below, I’ll break down the science behind the different reasons animals might act in an unpredictable way. Wild animals are incredible, but it’s also important to respect them and never approach them in the wild.

Reason 1: Wild Animals Are Individuals

Like humans have personalities, animals likely have certain survival instincts or traits that vary based on where they live, genetics, and what they’ve been taught by observing other members of their species and interactions with the world. You never know what an animal’s past experience is or how they feel about them.

As individuals, there also aren’t any guarantees when it comes to animals. Wildlife photographers likely spend days, weeks, or even longer trying to get footage of animals and their behavior because it’s hard to predict when animals show up. Just like it’s hard to predict how an animal is going to act if you approach it.

Another example is animals that run out in front of cars. While it’s believed animals view cars as some type of predator, it is not known once they encounter a car if they are going to freeze, run in the opposite direction, or run right into another vehicle. The way they respond is unpredictable.

Wild animals may run scared or hide when they see or hear a human, particularly smaller animals that are commonly on the watch for predators. Some animals might also be curious, though. They may watch you and if you approach them, they may even allow it to an extent.

But, if you approach that animal, you never know if it is going to kick, bite, scratch, run, or attack. Even if it seems okay with you approaching, that might change at any minute. Animals are not programmed to act in one way or another, wild animals are completely untrained and even the most tame, well-behaved pets can act aggressively sometimes.

Reason 2: You Never Know When They’ll Feel Threatened

You do not have to pose an actual threat to animals for them to feel threatened. In fact, many animals are inherently afraid of or at least cautious of humans simply because they are naturally afraid of us. Animals have an instinct for survival and many times, encounters with humans end up badly for the animal.

No matter what you believe, an animal can never know that you have good intentions. Plus, you never know if an animal has had encounters with a human before that went badly. They may be frozen out of fear or just observing the situation, they could stop observing and run away (or attack) at any time.

Reason 3: Humans Overlook Animal Body Language

Animals are capable of communicating how they are feeling, but humans don’t always have the knowledge to understand what an animal is trying to communicate. Some animals have audible sounds when they are threatened, like the rattlesnake for example, but in the case of a puma staring you down, the signals they are giving off may not be as clear.

Your body language also matters and it’s impossible to know whether an animal is sensing something from you that will make it attack. Predatory animals like lions are likely to attack if you are afraid, perhaps because fear makes it hard for people to think clearly in a fight-or-flight situation.

For this reason, the best thing to do when you do see an animal is to leave it alone. Even friendly-seeming animals like deer or rabbits are likely to bite if you try to pet them or pick them up. After all, think about how unlikely it is that animals like these. don’t associate humans with hunting. They likely are not a fan.

Reason 4: Illness Or Injury Can Make Animals More Aggressive

Have you ever been sick or in pain and been irritated or short with a loved one? People often act out when they are in pain or experiencing discomfort and animals are no different.

In addition to this reason, some animals get diseases like rabies that can change their behavior and how they act normally. Rabies in particular is known for causing aggression. This disease attacks the central nervous system and neurons in the brain. By destroying certain receptors, it causes aggression.

Are Wild Animals Unpredictable?

Yes, wild animals are unpredictable. Animals attack around 47,000 people in the United States alone every year. They also do things like run out in front of cars, collide with airplanes, and do other unpredictable things.

The reality is, no matter how much science has taught us about animal behavior, animals are still unpredictable and at any time may act out of nature. They are individuals as much as humans are with their own life experiences they have learned from, so you never really know what type of animal you are encountering.

Why Are Wild Animals Unpredictable?

Wild animals are unpredictable because they are individuals that may react in any possible way when approached by a human. You can never tell when an animal will feel threatened by you and humans often overlook animal body language. Plus, some animals are dealing with injury or illness that might make them attack if approached.

Some wild animals might seem quiet and calm but because they may see humans as prey they’re likely to suddenly attack if the moment is right.

In this video, the only thing standing between the polar bear and the man is a glass box!

Are All Animals Unpredictable?

Yes, all animals are unpredictable to some extent, even domesticated animals like cats and dogs. For example, even the most patient, loving dogs are likely to lash out at a young child if the animal is injured or sick and the child accidentally hurts it.

This is one of the reasons it’s so important to never leave young children unattended with family pets. More than 4.5 million Americans are bit by dogs every year and 89.8% of these cases involve dogs known to the victim. Almost half of these cases are also children, meaning victims under the age of 18.

So, even animals that aren’t considered wild should always be respected. Pay attention to your pet’s body language and what they are telling you and never leave young children alone unattended around pets. Teach them to respect animals as well.

Final Word

Why are wild animals unpredictable? Wild animals are all individuals. They may have learned differently from their lives or their experiences. You never know when they are going to feel threatened and attack, even if you have the best intentions. Plus, it’s hard for a human to understand animal behavior or body language.

In addition to these reasons, animals are likely to lash out or act aggressively if they are experiencing pain or illness. Rabies particularly is a cause of aggression because of the way that it attacks the central nervous system.

With wild, and even domestic animals being unpredictable, it’s very important to respect pets and wildlife. You never know when their typical behavior will change.