While you expect to see spectacular scenery when hiking and on trails, unexpected run-ins with wild animals can be unnerving. Knowing important wildlife safety tips about what to do if you come into contact with wild animals will help keep you and the animals safe. Here are some safety tips to help you avoid wild animal encounters, as well as what to do in case you do come up against one.
Remain calm and avoid running away from an animal. Unexpected movements can frighten animals and make them feel threatened, increasing the likelihood of an attack.
Maintain your distance. The majority of wild animals will not attack unless provoked or threatened in some way. Avoid approaching or petting the animal, and give it plenty of space to avoid an attack or aggressive behavior.
Never feed wild animals and dispose of all waste properly. Improper food storage and disposal will attract wild animals to your campsite or resting place. Feeding wild animals also change their natural behavior, causing them to lose the fear of humans or become aggressive.
Get to know the animals that live in the area, as well as the local rules and restrictions. Each region has its own set of animals to encounter and needs for coping with them.
Maintain your awareness and vigilance. Keep an eye out for animal tracks, droppings, and claw or antler markings on trees that could indicate the presence of an animal. Hiking with headphones is not recommended because it prevents you from hearing what's going on around you.
Make Noise. Surprising an animal increases the likelihood that it will feel threatened. If you're hiking in an area where there are bears or other potentially dangerous animals, make some noise to alert them of your presence.
Hike in groups when possible. Hiking with others is a good idea for many reasons, including protecting yourself from wildlife.
Avoid hiking at night, as well as at dawn and dusk. Many animals are most active these times of day, including bears, mountain lions, and moose. Hiking during the day when the animals are less active will decrease your chances of an unwanted encounter.
They are most common in Alaska, the Appalachian Mountain Range, the northeastern United States, the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, and Canada. Grizzly bears are less common than black bears, with their primary habitats located in western Canada and the US states of Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.
Knowing how to tell the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear is an important first step in remaining safe during a bear encounter, as safety advice differs slightly between the two species. Human attacks by black bears are extremely rare. Although grizzly attacks are uncommon, grizzlies are more likely to charge and injure humans, particularly female bears protecting their young.
For either bear, it’s wise to carry bear spray and know how to use it. Keep it in an easily accessible place and have the spray ready when you see a bear in case you need to use it.
- Stand directly in front of the bear. Raise and spread your arms to make yourself appear as large as possible.
- Make a loud noise with anything you have, such as pots and pans or your trekking poles, and throw objects in the bear's direction (but not directly at it) to scare it away.
- Put any food you have in a bear canister and take it with you as you flee. If the bear pursues you and clearly wants the food, leave it and continue backing away as a last resort.
- Use your bear spray if the bear approaches you. When the bear is within 25-30 feet of you, use the spray most effectively (7.5-9 meters).
- If a black bear attacks you, do not pretend to be dead. Instead, use your fists, sticks, rocks, or whatever else you can find to fight back. Attempt to hit the bear in the eyes and nose.
- When dealing with grizzly bears, it's critical that you don't appear to be a threat. Maintain your cool, slowly back away (as long as the bear is not approaching you), and avoid making eye contact.
- If the bear charges or approaches you, do not flee. You must maintain your position.
- Prepare your bear spray and speak in a soft, friendly tone.
- If a bear comes within 25-30 feet of you, use your bear spray (7.5-9 meters).
- To observe the bear's body language, keep an eye on it without making direct eye contact. If the bear's ears are flat and its head is low, it is most likely preparing to attack.
- If you are attacked by a bear, lie flat on your stomach and cover the back of your neck with your hands. Make sure your backpack is between you and the bear. Play dead
Cougars are mostly found in the Western United States and Canada.
- Stop moving right away. Don't approach the animal and don't flee.
- Use your arms and, if you have one, a coat to make yourself appear larger. If you can find a tree stump, log, or something else to stand on, it can help you appear even bigger.
- Do not stoop or bend over – the smaller you appear, the more likely the mountain lion will perceive you as prey.
- Make direct eye contact with the cougar and turn your face towards it.
- Step back slowly and speak to the cougar in a firm but calm tone.
- If it does not back down or approaches you, throw objects in its direction (but not directly at it) to deter it from approaching.
- Fight back if a mountain lion attacks you. If at all possible, stay on your feet and use whatever you can find to fend off the animal. This could include sticks, rocks, trekking poles, water bottles, your bare hands, or whatever else you have on hand.
- Mountain lions usually try to bite the neck or head when they attack, so face the animal and protect these areas. You can try to use your backpack as a shield if you have one.
- Do not run or turn your back on the animals, as this will activate their predatory instincts.
- Make yourself as big as possible by standing tall.
- Maintain eye contact and slowly back away. Prepare your pepper spray in case you need to use it.
- If possible, keep dogs leashed and behind you. Never attempt to break up a physical fight between a dog and a wolf or coyote, unless from a safe distance using pepper spray.
- If the wolf or coyote does not flee, start making noise, yelling, and throwing things at it while slowly backing away. The goal is to scare the animal away by convincing it that you are a potential threat.
- Fight back if it attacks you.
- Wear over-the-ankle boots, thick hiking socks, and long loose pants.
- Consider purchasing snake gaiters for hiking.
- When possible, walk on logs and rocks rather than over them, as you may surprise a snake that is hiding.
- Avoid walking through dense brush or thickets of blackberries.
- If you see a snake on the trail, give it the right of way. Do not try to kill the snake; instead, move out of the snake's path.
- If you go hiking frequently, you should consider purchasing a snake bite kit.
While moose may not have the same fearsome reputation as some of the other wild animals, they injure more people than bears and wolves combined. Moose can be found in Canada and Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, and the northern states of the United States from Washington to Maine.
- Because moose are so massive, you'll probably notice them before they notice you. If that's the case, keep quiet and move away slowly so the moose doesn't notice you.
- If the moose sees you, speak to it calmly and softly so that it knows where you are and does not feel threatened. Slowly back up.
- Keep an eye out for signs that the moose is agitated and may become aggressive. These include stomping and grunting, as well as raised hair on its shoulders and back. If you see these signs, you should prepare for a potential attack.
- If the moose comes charging at you, hide behind a boulder or a tree. These charges are frequently a ruse, but it's best to be safe and seek protection. It's also a good option if you can quickly and safely climb a tree. Just make sure you're high enough that the moose can't get to you.
- If you can't hide or climb anything, run. Moose are an exception to the running rule; because they don't usually chase very far, you may be able to outrun them.
- Don't fight back if the moose reaches you and knocks you down. Instead, curl into a ball and wrap your arms and hands around your head for protection. Try not to move until the moose leaves and you have enough time to get to safety.
Bison generally do not attack unless provoked, but they can still injure humans.
American bison can be found in western states such as Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota, as well as several provinces in western Canada. They are most commonly found in open grasslands such as plains, prairies, and river valleys.
- Allow plenty of space for these large animals to move around. Never approach, chase, or attempt to frighten them away. Some parks recommend a minimum distance of 25 yards (23 meters) from bison, while others recommend a minimum distance of 100 yards (91 meters).
- Pawing the ground, shaking their heads, raising their tails, snorting loudly, and making short, false charges are all signs of aggression. If you see any of these warning signs, back away slowly to give them space and seek shelter behind a tree or boulder in case the bison charges. If possible, you can also climb a tree. Bison, despite their size, can run at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour), so fleeing may not be an option.
- If you are attacked by a bison, protect your neck and head and move away from the animal as soon as possible. Do not fight back or attempt to frighten the animal in any way.
While seeing wild animals is one of the most exciting aspects of exploring nature, respecting the animals and knowing how to behave around them is a skill that all outdoor enthusiasts must learn. Familiarizing yourself with these wildlife safety protocols is an important step toward keeping yourself, other outdoor enthusiasts, and the wildlife you encounter safe.
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