Tips for keeping your cool with wildlife

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Wildlife attacks are rare, but dangerous encounters do occur, especially when humans are unaware of — or unaware of — wildlife viewing rules and etiquette. Over Memorial Day weekend, a bison in Yellowstone gored an Ohio woman who had stood within 10 feet of the animal, well within the park’s guideline of staying at least 25 meters (or 75 feet). The burly beast threw the visitor 10 feet into the air and inflicted a puncture wound, among other injuries.

“Pets account for most animal attacks in the United States, but if we’re just talking about wildlife, snakes and rodents (rats, squirrels, etc.) make up the vast majority,” Mark Hofberg said. , Head of Campaigns for the International Fund for Development. Animal Welfare, a DC-based nonprofit, wrote in an email. “The high-profile attacks by bears, cougars and other large mammals that you hear on the news are much rarer but more likely to be dangerous, so it’s best to be prepared.”

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With the summer outdoor season approaching, we will no doubt come across animals in their natural habitats, a prospect that delights one group more than the other. “Wild animals want to be left on their own,” said Cameron Harsh, director of programs in the US office of World Animal Protection, an international nonprofit group. “They don’t want to interact with humanity.”

To ensure a peaceful kingdom, we’ve asked wildlife experts from government agencies and non-profit organizations for advice on how to keep all creatures – two-legged, four-legged and legless, with or without tail, most with teeth – safe in nature. Here are their guidelines:

Familiarize yourself with the wildlife of the park or area you plan to visit. “The rule of thumb whether you go to Shenandoah, Yellowstone or Denali [national parks], is knowing what wildlife calls home,” said Bart Melton, director of the wildlife program at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), a DC-based nonprofit. Learn to identify local residents (grizzly bears have pronounced bumps on their shoulders, unlike black bears) and note their schedules. For example, ungulates, such as bison, and coyotes are generally crepuscular, or more active at dusk and dawn, while alligators are diurnal and nocturnal. (They basically keep the same hours as a 24-hour restaurant.)

You can find this information on park websites (for national parks, search under ‘Nature’ or ‘Safety’) and at visitor centers and tourist offices. Trailheads typically feature signage that highlights wildlife and shares hiking best practices. State wildlife management agencies are also valuable resources. For example, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website has a page called “Living with Wildlife and Preventing Wildlife Conflicts” which includes tips on food safety and links to short biographies of nearly 400 species, including black bear, bull shark and cottonmouth/water moccasin. The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s “Living with Wildlife” section offers an introduction to the state’s 13 species of rattlesnakes, as well as tips on how to handle a collision with a cougar, bobcat, a bear or a javelina, among other creatures.

Be extra vigilant during major annual events. During calving and mating seasons, for example, animals may behave more aggressively. In the spring, the bears go in search of food after a long winter fast. Around the same time, cubs will venture out of their dens for the first time, with their protective mothers nearby. “Make sure if you see cubs that you are aware of the mother bear’s location,” Melton said. “It is extremely important to avoid getting between a bear and her cubs.” Elk, bison, and moose also calve during this time, so avoid parents and their offspring. In the fall, bears overeat before hibernation, a period called binge eating, and elk, caribou, moose and other hoofed animals compete for mates during the week-long rut. “Bull elk are pretty feisty,” Melton said. For this reason, never come between swaggering males and their objects of affection.

Give the animals plenty of space. Although there is no official distance figure, experts, including those at many national parks, recommend staying at least 75 feet from non-predatory creatures and 300 feet from predators. David Lamfrom, vice president of regional programs at the NPCA, recommends a buffer zone of 50 feet around elephant seals and sea lions, whose males are territorial, and at least six feet between you and a poisonous snake. . “If you’re close enough to take a selfie,” said Sarah Gaines Barmeyer, senior executive director of NPCA conservation programs, “you’re too close.” Speaking of photography: Invest in a telephoto lens.

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Always respect designated trails and viewing platforms. Avoid startling wildlife. “Be predictable,” Lamfrom said, adding that animals such as bears and moose are generally well-behaved on heavily populated roads. At Shark Valley in Florida’s Everglades National Park, home to more than 200,000 alligators, visitors can view the large reptiles from a tram or along a boardwalk. “They’re not going to climb up and grab you,” Barmeyer said. However, Meredith Budd, director of regional policy for the Florida Wildlife Federation, cautions against lingering at the water’s edge, especially in retention ponds and especially if you have a small dog in tow. “If there’s a body of water in Florida,” she said, “there’s probably an alligator in it.”

Alligators take center stage in Florida’s Everglades National Park

Leave no traces of food behind. Clean up all your trash and sweep up the crumbs. If you’re camping, seal your food in a bear-proof container. “In most cases wildlife wants to avoid you, but if you left the foil with the burger drips from your barbecue last night, you make it hard for them to ignore you,” Hofberg said. Never leave a backpack with food lying around, even long enough to take a picture of a view or tie up your shoes. Watch out for smells that might sound like a medicine cabinet to you, but a Las Vegas buffet to a wild animal. For example, Melton recommends that campers don’t bring toothpaste inside their tent or put on deodorant before lights out. Also, don’t sleep in your hiking gear, especially if you’re grilling burgers there.

Take preventive measures. On hiking trails in bear country, announce your presence vocally. “Let the bears know you’re there,” Melton said. “Continuous renditions of great songs to sing or take turns every two minutes with a ‘Hey, Bear!’ yelling loudly is a good approach If you spot a carcass, don’t headline it: get past it as quickly as possible In tall marsh grass or wet areas, wear knee-high boots to protect your legs from the snakes. Before stepping over a log, check on the other side for any snakes waiting for unsuspecting prey. In stingray territory, such as the Gulf Coast of Florida, shuffle your feet in the sand as a warning signal. In waters populated by sharks or barracudas, ditch the shiny clothes and glittery, dangling accessories for the disco. “Don’t look like a fish,” Barmeyer advised. want to swim in a school of fish, which is essentially a must for aquatic predators.

In a dangerously close encounter, follow the appropriate course of action. This may vary by species. For example, with black bears, directly confront the threatening animal and retaliate if the situation becomes serious. With grizzlies, avoid eye contact and play dead if attacked. However, some prevailing rules apply. “Generally, for animals that are predators, you don’t want to act like prey,” Hofberg said. “So don’t turn your back and run away. Make yourself big, and if you’re with others, get together. In its “Stay Safe Around Bears” section, the National Park Service suggests speaking to the bear calmly, as if trying to comfort a child, and slowly waving your arms. Pack bear spray, but only use it in an emergency. The Be Bear Aware campaign offers free deterrence handling instructions. Melton reminds hikers that bear spray isn’t just a stronger version of mosquito repellent: “Don’t spray it on your tent.” To defend yourself against a moose, bison or elk, try inserting an object, such as a tree or rock, between you and the animal. For a comprehensive guide to de-escalating wildlife conflicts, see outdoor retailer REI’s “Wildlife Safety Tips.”

Show respect. It goes without saying: never feed, taunt or harass animals.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advisories can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s travel health advisories webpage.

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