Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the last couple of days, you may have noticed a new type of “hunter” around town. Specifically, these hunters are younger, often travel in groups, and always have a smartphone in their hands. Sometimes they also don’t seem to be too aware of their surroundings, instead swinging their phones around as if they’re trying to swat a fly with it. This is, of course, the phenomenon known as Pokemon GO, a new augmented reality app that is reintroducing the beloved video game series to millions of people across the United States. It’s not all fun and games however—public safety officials and private businesses have been scrambling to make sure that players aren’t wandering into unsafe areas, or causing a ruckus on their property. Specifically, some wildlife officials say that the app could lead to an uptick in wild animal encounters, and that could be both good and bad news.
“Pokémon Go is active, creative, exploratory play that encourages players to interact with their environment,” wrote ecologist Andrew Thaler on Facebook. “Sure, it’s not a cure for Nature Deficit Disorder, but it’s definitely a potential treatment.”
You can learn how the app works in the video below:
This is especially true for cities like Anchorage, Alaska, where wildlife pass by routinely.
“Not only do people need to make sure they don’t walk into traffic or into a fixed object, we live in Alaska. This means we have wildlife. People walking around need to be looking up in case they come across a bear or moose,” Anchorage Police Department spokesperson Renee Oistad told KTUU.
Such situations can turn dangerous very quickly, and are not likely to be defused with throwing a Pokeball.
Some agencies have already put out warnings to players who wish to use the app in parks or near areas with an abundance of wildlife. Military bases also reminded nearby residents that certain places are off-limits, and that users should be wary of accidentally trespassing.
“Pikachu reminds you that Pokemon trainers must not trespass on federal property,” read a sign outside the National Weather Service office in Anchorage.
Officials encourage young players to travel in groups for safety and to avoid going out after dark.