Those brochures they hand out at Yellowstone with a drawing of a person getting flung into the air by an angry buffalo aren’t just for the tourists. They’re a warning to everyone who spends any amount of time in areas wild animals call home. Even Wyoming natives aren’t immune to the lack of judgment that once in a while results in a tragic wildlife-human interaction.
And these encounters aren’t limited to Yellowstone. They can happen anywhere people and wildlife share the same space. If you’re doing some wildlife photography, wildlife watching or just hiking in the backcountry, you might find yourself inside a wild animal’s comfort zone.
Stay alert while you’re hiking, biking, riding a horse, or doing anything else in the backcountry. Make some noise to alert animals to your presence. If you move quietly, you might startle a moose or bear, and that’s not a good thing. A startled moose, especially a cow with a calf, can be more dangerous than a bear.
Purposely getting close to a wild animal can lead to trouble, too. It’s always a neat thing to watch wildlife, but do it from a safe distance. If you’re shooting pictures, use a telephoto lens to get that close-up. Stay back. The same’s true if you’re just watching the critters. Use binoculars or spotting scopes if you want to get a good look. Don’t walk up to the animals.
While you’re watching the wildlife, pay attention to the signals they give you. If you’re too close, they might lay their ears back or flare their nostrils. They might paw at the ground or make noises. Or they might move away. If they put distance between themselves and you, don’t follow them. Not only is that considered harassment, it’s also a good way to trigger their fight or flight instincts. If they don’t have anywhere to flee to, that leaves only fight. And even a small elk, moose or bear can maim or kill a human without too much effort.
If you keep these tips in mind, you’ll get good pictures, watch wild animals doing what they do naturally, and you won’t cause them undue stress. So keep your distance and stay safe.