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.