Wildlife Viewing Safety

Wildlife ViewingWildlife viewing is one of the main reasons people go to parks.  Yellowstone National Park is a prime example of fantastic opportunities to see a wide variety of animals.  Because of this close interaction between beast and man, there have been many injuries and deaths.  Most of these encounters could have been avoided if the hiker, backpacker, park visitor followed some rules.

The National Park Service (NPS) has set up guidelines for visitors to follow when viewing wildlife:

  • Bears and Wolves:  Stay at least 100 yards away.
  • All other Large Animals: Stay at least 25 yards away.

There are some instances that you need to be even more vigilant.  Like during rut for Elk or Moose.  Also be careful when any bear cubs or other babies are seen, the mothers, rightly so, are extremely protective.

Staying away from animals is the key.  View from afar.  Unfortunately, people want to get up close to get a great picture with aunt Stacy posed with a moose.  Or they just want to get a better look at the animal.  The NPS has a great rule of thumb, “If an animal reacts to your presence, you are too close.”

Never feed any wild animal.  Besides being illegal in many areas, this can have many devastating effects:

  • It teaches the animal to not fear humans.  This can lead to more aggressive begging behavior.  Animals behaving aggressively to humans have to be put down.
  • Human food is not nutritionally viable to the health of the animal.  This can lead to sickness or death of an animal.
  • Another thing it teaches is dependence on humans for food.  What happens to animals during the winter when they have been fed all spring, summer and fall?  When there are fewer or no hikers on a trail?
  • It can change the reproduction rates.  This can happen if humans are providing a large amount of food.  The amount of offspring is directly related to the amount of food available.
  • More animals may be attracted to the area.
  • You are risking your health.  Wild animals have sharp teeth, claws, talons and other sharp features.  Animals do not understand that you are handing them the food and your fingers are not part of the meal.

The Yellowstone National Park website has put together a page of videos that show the dangers of getting too close to wildlife.

Always remember that just because an animal is “being cute” or looks tame, it is not. Wild animals are unpredictable and can turn from friendly to aggressive in seconds. To reiterate, the best way to avoid this is to keep your distance.

When planning a trip that will involve wildlife viewing, carry a set of binoculars or a telephoto lens on your camera.  Wildlife can be beautiful and magnificent, but don’t let a possible great experience go bad.  Keep your distance and enjoy.

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