As someone who makes his living working with animals and an unabashed animal lover, there’s nothing I find more enjoyable than packing up the family and heading to a national park for a fun and educational vacation experience. It’s a great way to experience wildlife, such as bears, buffaloes, wolves and elk, in their natural habitats.
However, it’s important to treat these wild animals with respect so you don’t endanger the animal, yourself or your family. Following a few basic tips can ensure a safe and enjoyable wildlife-viewing adventure.
Keep Your Distance
One sure way to frighten a wild animal is to get too close for comfort. While in most cases a frightened animal will simply run away, a mother with babies nearby could view you as a threat and decide to attack.
A better option is to keep at a safe distance, typically a minimum of 200 feet away, and use high-powered binoculars to observe the animal. Avoid the temptation to feed the animals. No matter how cute or cuddly they might appear, they are still wild animals, and they have no misgivings about biting the hand that feeds them.
Look and Listen for Warning Signs
Animals normally exhibit signs of alarm that indicate they feel afraid or threatened. A suddenly raised head, pricked ears or an unfriendly growl or hiss can all signify an animal is not very happy with your presence. It’s also a clear signal that it’s time for you to move on. When moving away from an animal, back away slowly instead of running and always leave the animal with a clear path of escape so it doesn’t feel cornered.
Get the Picture
You’ll undoubtedly want to snap a few photos of the magnificent creatures you encounter, although it’s not as easy as it appears on those wildlife shows you see on “Animal Planet.” In accordance with the “keep your distance” directive, use high-quality equipment, such as cameras with telephoto lenses that enable you to get a good shot without getting too close. It can also be beneficial to contact an experienced wildlife photographer before your trip for tips on photographing a particular type of animal.
Stay on the Right Path
National parks and other wilderness areas have clearly defined paths for hikers and explorers. Staying on these designated paths decreases your risk of an animal encounter that doesn’t end well for one or both of you.
Carry Bear Spray Where Permitted
When you’re venturing into the wild, you need to be prepared for just about anything. Many national parks in the western U.S., such as Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton, strongly recommend you include bear spray in with the rest of your gear.
Bear sprays are non-lethal and non-toxic, and they can disorient an attacking bear long enough for you to make an escape. Don’t let carrying bear spray provide you with a false sense of security, however, as a blast of pepper spray isn’t always enough to deter an enraged black bear. Also be sure to check the regulations of any park or wildlife area you visit, as some may prohibit the carrying and use of bear spray.