What NOT to do while visiting a National Park

My recent visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks taught me a few things about a false sense of security many people seem to have when they are interacting with wildlife.

Why am I posting this?  Simply because I observed so many instances of a stunning lack of common sense that it makes me wonder whether or not it is as “common” as I had assumed.

Case in point:  The Moose-Wilson road in Grand Teton National Park.

I actually read Mike Cavaroc’s post about a week before I left on my trip to the area and wondered if he was being overly sensitive to people’s behavior in the area, or if there really was a consistent problem with the behavior of tourists (and some other photographers).  Well it turns out Mike was right.  Let me illustrate one situation I observed.

There was a grizzly bear on a hillside along the road enjoying a nice salad of grass for dinner.  I pulled out the 500mm and was taking shots of him from across the road near my vehicle in the pullout.  I observed at least three people start to ascend that hillside and get within 50 feet of the bear as if they were approaching a family pet to take pictures.  In fact, as the bear started to retreat, one particularly sense-challenged person shouted to the crowd, “It’s leaving, go get it!  Go!”

I actually had to pause for a few moments to contemplate the stupidity of charging after a bear that was clearly in retreat.

Please help educate friends and family that do not have any experience with wildlife and may not know that the parks are not a petting zoo.  Here is a simple list of things to never do when interacting with wildlife.

1 – Let your child approach a bear or other large mammal.

While they are awesome to observe, bears are 700+ lb amalgamations of teeth and claws.  Bears are not for petting. Neither are deer, elk, or moose.  I’ve seen more than one person approach a moose calf with the mother present.  Engaging in these sorts of activities will not end well for you.  Stick to the distances given by the Park Service.

2 – Block an animal’s escape route.

In Yellowstone, it’s not uncommon to see a large herd of people observing wildlife (particularly bears).  It is important to keep in mind that the animal needs to have a path available for retreat in case the number of people present creates enough stress on the animal to make it want to leave.

3 – Ignore the Park Service rangers.

The rangers are there for a reason.  They’ve seen the behavior of many of these animals through years of experience and encounters in their day-to-day careers.  They are typically more attuned to the body language of animals to know when a threat is present.  Listen to what they say.

The bottom line is to avoid activities that are going to endanger others or yourself.  Having a healthy respect for the animals in the park and the park rangers will go a long way to preventing incidents.


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2 Responses to What NOT to do while visiting a National Park

  1. Mike says:

    Thanks for the link, Ben! It’s unfortunate that one of the main attractions to these national parks could be the Darwin Awards in action.

    Hopefully getting the word out will reduce that. Thanks for the help!

  2. Pingback: 12 Things NOT to do in the National Parks - WildernessDave.com

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