Children today grow up with animal imagery all around them: stuffed creatures of all kinds, including whales, owls and sheep; beavers and foxes in bedtime stories; pajamas decorated with pandas or butterflies. Children’s story books feature farm animals and wild critters, and sports teams adopt animal names as powerful totems.
The problem is that these are not real animals. We think of bears, for example, as cute teddy bears, (Thank you, President Theodore Roosevelt), but in fact they are wild, dangerous animals.
Getting out in nature and meeting wildlife is not like Disneyland – The Lion King’s Simba the lion and Ed the hyena are simply cartoons.
When you venture out into the great outdoors, you are on the territory of the wildlife. This is their home, and we humans are mere visitors.
Here are 5 tips on what to do when you encounter animals in the wild:
1. Don’t Get Too Close
Several years ago, I was visiting Yellowstone National Park and driving through the Lamar Valley area. The car in front of me screeched to a halt, forcing me to brake quickly. This happens often driving through these beautiful meadows, as visitors spot a bison or a bear and simply stop in the road to get a look. This time, as I looked over, I was horrified. A father had taken his young son, set him on top of a bison and stepped away to take a photo. Within seconds, the wild animal had tossed the youngster in the air and trampled him to death.
Respect wildlife and keep your distance.
2. Don’t Feed The Animals
Feeding wild animals may be fun and seemingly harmless, but it teaches wildlife that humans mean food. In the future, they may aggressively approach people looking for food, with disastrous consequences for the wildlife and the people. People get hurt, or even killed, and the animals get euthanized, even though it’s not really the animals’ fault. Yellowstone National Park provides a good example of this also: early visitors to the Park dumped their trash, and discovered that this attracted bears. Watching bears eat garbage became a major tourist attraction. Since then, the Park was worked to educate visitors on storing all food in bear proof containers, but those bears still go after food when they can and often lose their lives as a result.
3. Don’t Stick Your Hand Into An Animal’s Den
It’s not just about the big animals; we need to be careful around the smaller ones too. For example, tracking animals like squirrels, rabbits and birds is really fun, and it’s easy to spot them in snow, dirt, mud and the edges of puddles, ponds and lakes. My children and I used to get down on our hands and knees and look closely for animal signs: besides tracks, we found feathers, scat, broken twigs and bent grass where animals had trod or lain down. However, a few times our tracking led us to a hole in the ground, clearly an animal’s den.
If you discover a creature’s home, it might be tempting to put a hand in there, but don’t do it!
4. Don’t Pick Up Baby Animals Or Take Them Home
Wild animals need to stay within their own natural habitat, and we should not be making pets of them. You might think they are cute, but their parents think so too, and won’t appreciate your actions. It is also illegal to keep a wild animal as a pet without having a license. If you find an a baby bird or animal who looks abandoned or injured, your first course of action should be to call the local wildlife organization or park ranger.
5. Don’t Be Ignorant
If you are going to an area where you know there will be wildlife, educate yourself about the animals you might encounter, and don’t display rash or sudden behavior. Learn how to react before you meet a wild animal. If it’s a mountain lion, face the animal head on. Don’t run; instead make lots of noise, flail your arms and make yourself look as big and mean as possible. The opposite is true for a grizzly bear: if you see the bear soon enough, walk away and keep moving away. But If the bear sees you, play dead: wrap your arms around your head, curl up in a tight ball and play dead.
Two different wild animals; two entirely different ways to respond.
Enjoy getting out this summer!
Photo Credit: thinkstock