5 Things Not to Do When You Encounter Wildlife this Summer

Edit: This Care2 Favorite was originally published in summer of 2013. Enjoy!

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 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: Getty Images

176 comments

Paulo R
Paulo Reeson3 days ago

thanks for the advice.

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Rosemary Rannes
Rosemary R8 days ago

Judy my apologies for going off topic. I have read when people hiking, who encountered a bear, pretended to be dead, and were mauled almost to the point of death!

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Rosemary Rannes
Rosemary R8 days ago

Because today is World Ocean's Day, and really should be everyday, we need to do more than just simply say, oh it's too bad the beach is so littered, or the water is so polluted. It is incumbent on us as humans to act by cleaning up our beaches , and ensuring that we do not pollute our waters. Too often our disposable society does not bother to stop and realise the repercussions of tossing water bottles into a lake, or river, or on a beach. Plastic is the biggest killer of marine life as evidenced in the number of whales who have recently died floating to shore, or a sea turtle like the loggerhead found strangled to death with a rope wrapped around it's neck. That image that i saw has stayed with me because of the suffering the sea turtle endured, a slow death! Why do we humans feel we have the right to be so arrogant, and so deliberately careless. What will it take, for us to stop these actions and instead, raise our awareness towards protecting and saving our Relations, our land, our oceans and the very air we breathe?

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Rosemary R
Rosemary R8 days ago

Judy these are great tips especially don't be ignorant. It''s critical to educate yourself and your children before going hiking in the mountains, or anywhere, as you cited about the father whose son was trampled to death by a bison! Know the environment you are going to visit as much as possible, as questions if there is a park ranger available, but always just leave the animals alone because they are wild and the place you are 'visiting' without an invitation from them, is their home, it is after all sacred space!

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie8 days ago

thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie8 days ago

thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie8 days ago

thank you so very much.

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Cathy B
Cathy B8 days ago

Thank you for this 2013 repost!

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Marija Mohoric
Marija M9 days ago

tks for sharing

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Monica Collier
Monica Collier9 days ago

The smart thing is to look from a distance and not invade their space.

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