Soaking up the great outdoors can be a majestic adventure. That is, until you come face-to-face with a fierce wild animal.
When you’re outdoors, especially in rural areas, the chances of coming into contact with a bear, coyote, elk, bison or other wild animals are pretty good, depending on where you are. If you do, knowing how to handle the situation could be key to your survival.
KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
Yellowstone National Park rangers ask visitors to follow four basic safety tips: Be alert; make noise; hike in groups of three or more; and do not run if you encounter a bear.
“Keep in mind that wild animals aren’t interested in you,” says Charissa Reid, spokewsoman for Yellowstone National Park. “For the most part they would like nothing to do with you.”
Maintain a distance of 100 yards from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from elk, bison, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes. Wild animals, especially females with young, are unpredictable and dangerous, says the park’s website.
By keeping a safe distance, you’re not only protecting yourself, you’re also respecting the natural behavior and activity of the animal.
THE BEAR NECESSITIES
Although the incident rate for animal attacks is relatively low at Yellowstone, with three fatalities in the last three years due to bear encounters, Reid says, the National Park Service aims to eliminate fatalities altogether.
Yellowstone recently launched A Bear Doesn’t Care, a campaign that educates the public on the importance of carrying bear spray, which should contain between 1% to 2% capsaicin—the stuff that’s in hot peppers.
“Bear spray has been shown to be 90% effective in defending oneself against an aggressive bear attack,” Reid says.
If you see a bear, but it doesn’t see you, back up slowly and quietly. If that works, then leave the area and find a new route. Never run.
If the bear sees you, talk to it in a nonaggressive voice as you back away. Most likely, the bear will retreat, too. If it charges, hold your ground. If it comes within 40 feet of you, discharge your bear spray.
Bears are not the only serious threat to national park visitors, Reid says. Large animals such as elk and bison can also be aggressive.
Bison appear slow and harmless, but if they sense danger they can be fast and dangerous.
Likewise, never approach elk, whether you’re on foot or in a vehicle. A male elk can quickly slam a person or vehicle that gets in the way of its powerful antlers. The best way to avoid an attack is to keep a safe distance.
FOLLOW THE RULES
Animal behaviorist and author Bryan Bailey recommends carrying a whistle so that if an animal does attack, you can call for help after it has left.
“A whistle in the wild is an international distress signal,” Bailey says. “The higher frequency can penetrate through dense foliage more than the human voice can.”
Though hiking and camping among wildlife requires vigilance, attacks are rare if visitors follow the guidelines provided.
“Be informed,” Reid says. “Your reaction is going to depend on the species of animal and your comfort level.”