Reports of Biting Squirrels Scare Caregivers Away from BPC Playground

A squirrel that had just come in from the Rockefeller Park lawn makes itself at home on a playground bench. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Aug. 13, 2019

Biting squirrels in and around the playground in Battery Park City’s Rockefeller Park during the past week have some parents and nannies fearing to return with their children. 

Ruth de Ramos, a nanny caring for a 1-year-old, was seated on a bench with three other caregivers just outside the playground when she felt something on her foot. “I didn’t realize what it was until I heard my friend screaming, ‘Squirrel! Squirrel!’” De Ramos managed to finally kick the rodent off her shoe, only to see it jump onto the hand of the nanny next to her, biting and scratching her as she shielded the baby in its stroller.

“I wouldn’t consider going back there. Not anytime soon,” de Ramos said. “We love hanging out there, but because of this episode, we don’t want to go there.“

At least five people, mostly small children, were bitten by squirrels over the past week, according to parents’ reports In each case, they said, food was not present and the squirrels were not provoked.

Lian Li said her 16-month-old son, watched by her nanny, was playing with a 2-year-old girl on the lawn near the playground when “all of a sudden a squirrel jumped on her and bit her hand and ran away. It broke the skin and bled a lot,” she said the nanny told her. “The girl didn’t do anything, there was no food on her. They were just playing on the grass.”

“We are going to another park,” she added. “It’s scary.”

“We’re just going to stay away from Rockefeller Park,” said a mother who told the Trib she had been scared away after reading reports about the bites on the HRPMamas message board. 

On Friday, the Battery Park City Authority posted notices about the reports of squirrel biting at the playground, with a warning not to “feed or interact with wildlife in parks.”

“We’ll continue to coordinate with our partners at the city’s Health Department and Parks Department,” said BPCA spokesman Nicholas Sbordone, who noted that the city requires people to report any animal bites to the Health Department within 24 hours. 

A Health Department spokesperson said in a statement that the agency had received one report of a person scratched by a squirrel in Rockefeller Park. Other reports of “aggressive behavior” came from the BPCA, she said. “The NYC Health Department receives about 30 reports of squirrel bites each year, usually from people who have been feeding them,” the statement said. “Squirrels exhibiting aggressive behavior have usually been fed by humans before—and are looking to eat again, or feel threatened. Since rabies surveillance began in 1992, New York City has never identified a squirrel with rabies.”

Still, Lori Gupta, the mother of four, is not reassured. She was in the park last Sunday with her 3-year-old when a squirrel bit a preschooler playing in the sand. The mother, she said, took the bleeding child to an urgent care center. Gupta said she had never known squirrels to bite until now. 

“It’s one thing if they’re being aggressive because they’re overfed,’ said Gupta, a non-practicing pediatrician. “It’s another thing to be aggressive because they’re sick.”

Gupta said she told her children that they will not go back to the playground until she knows why the squirrels are biting.

“I just want to make sure they’re not sick,” she said.