Are animals becoming more aggressive towards humans?

CBC photo
An owl tries to rip a hunter's face off. A moose bushwhacks a passing woman who's minding her own business. An octopus tries to mug a diver for his camera.

Could it be that the animal kingdom is getting fed up with us, humans?

The past week has been rich in bizarre animal-human encounters.

Kevin O'Neil was collecting some rabbits from the snares he'd set near Mink's Cove, N.S., last week when he was suddenly knocked over "just the same as if somebody took a bat and hit me between the eyes," he told the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

The assailant was an owl, possibly a great horned owl, which biologist Mark Elderkin said may have been intent on poaching O'Neil's trapped rabbits.

“The blood was running down my face instantly," he said. "I was so worried, it tore flesh on my right eye, because I couldn’t see a thing; it was just blood."

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The bird retreated to a nearby apple tree. O'Neil aimed his shotgun at the owl, awaiting another attack, but the bird flew off so he collected his rabbits and headed home.

Then there's the video posted on Facebook by a Smithers, B.C., resident of a malicious moose.

The recording, less than 30 seconds long, shows a woman carrying a package walking past the female moose loitering in someone's front yard in the northern B.C. town. As she passes, the moose cow appears to give the woman the hairy eyeball. It then steps onto the sidewalk behind her, walks up and gives her a hard shove on the shoulder with its left hoof, sending the woman stumbling into the street.

Commenters on Facebook worried the attack would prompt wildlife officials to put down the moose. One suggested it may have been pregnant.

But conservation officer Flint Knibbs said he doesn't see the incident as aggressive behaviour.

"You can see in the video that it's between a house and a vehicle, and our take on it is that the moose felt it needed to get out of there," he told CBC News, adding the animal will be watched.

"It was being cornered, and the easiest way out happened to be over top of this individual."

Then, there was a video of this incident involving two California scuba divers filming sea life off Carmel. A giant octopus approached the still-camera operator, reached out with a tentacled embrace and tried to grab the camera.

The situation looked dicey until the diver began snapping photos. The flash appeared to spook the octopus, which decided its curiosity had been satisfied and swam off.

[ Related: Violent incidents with deer prompt plan for cull in B.C., angering activists ]

And it seems every summer lately we've seeing reports of urbanized deer getting into rhubarbs with people. A woman in Kenora, Ont., last summer told CBC News she was reading on her back patio when a doe, a deer, a female deer, charged her.

"Within seconds, like, this deer makes eye contact with me and she flies at me," Rachelle Langlois said. "I've never seen anything run so fast."

Langlois cowered under a table for 10 minutes while the deer stomped around the patio.

Back in 2011, Britain's Mail Online reported a Siberian village was being terrorized by a giant pack of wolves, some 400 animals, killing horses at will. Wolf expert Shaun Ellis wrote the wolves could have lost their fear of urbanized humans but a more alarming possibility was the wolves had interbred with domestic dogs.

"If this is the case, it poses the nightmare possibility that an entirely new creature has been created which, while less wary of humans, also ­possesses the natural vulpine instinct for hunting and eating as a pack," he wrote.

Some of this behaviour is probably explained by the fact humanity keeps eating into wild animals' habitat. We've been told to co-exist with deer, coyotes, raccoons, bears. The question is, do they want to co-exist with us?

There are also suggestions that climate change may be influencing animal behaviour.

The Queen's University Journal reported last November that it's affecting Kingston's squirrel population. Warmer temperatures may increase their numbers, making them more aggressive as they hunt for food for the winter.

“We’re going to get more aggressive squirrels because the cold winters won’t be there to keep the numbers down,” Queen's geography professor Warren Mabee told the Journal.

Warmer ocean temperatures could also be changing the personalities of fish.

Treehugger.com reported that, led by Dr. Peter Biro of the University of New South Wales, a study on the effects of temperature changes on damselfish found that fish have personalities. Apparently, individual fish respond to temperature change in different ways. Some showed few observable changes, the study found, while others became "up to 30 times more active and aggressive" in warmer water.

Climate change may also be responsible for a rise in shark attacks worldwide, Agence France-Presse reported in 2012. Statistics compiled by the University of Florida recorded 12 deaths in 46 shark attacks in 2011. The mortality rate was 25 per cent, compared with an average of seven per cent in the previous 10 years.

While some of the locations, such as Australia and South Africa, are known for shark attacks, three locations – the French island of Reunion, the Seychelles and New Caledonia – are not. What they have in common is an increase in tourism.

"So we are getting more people coming to places where there are sharks, and the local communities are not prepared for the number of people going into the water at this time," said George Burgess, an ichthyologist from the University of Florida.

By contrast, Burgess told AFP, Florida has recorded a reduction in the number of attacks in recent years, coinciding with a drop in tourism due to the weak economic situation.

Whatever the reason we seem to be running afoul of our furry and feathered friends, we should keep one simple rule in mind: Don't make eye contact.