Summer Vacation Threats — Wild Animals


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WildlifeTravel to a place you haven’t been before often tops the list of vacation destinations.

And a glimpse of a wild animal you’ve never seen outside a zoo might make that vacation truly memorable.

Still, an “up close and personal” experience with a bear (mountain lion, coyote, wolf, bison, snake, alligator, etc.) may turn out to be more than you bargained for.

Five general guidelines for protecting yourself from dangerous wild animal attacks.

 

First rule – “Maintain situational awareness!”

We’ve talked before about the dangers of wandering city streets with your attention focused on your cell phone. Paying attention to your surroundings is just as important in the woods or on safari or surfing. Your “vacation paradise” may be the hunting grounds for wild animals — and you could become the prey.

So, know before you arrive what you might expect, and be on the lookout with every step.

Second rule – Avoidance is the best defense.

Unless you are a professional hunter, or perhaps a professional photographer, the safest vacation will be one where you never even see a dangerous animal up close.

Most wild animals will avoid you if given the chance.

Some ways to improve your chances of keeping wild animals at a safe distance:

• Avoid areas where dangerous wild animals have been seen or attacks have happened. This includes keeping hands or feet out of water where alligators may swim, and keeping entirely out of water where sharks have been seen. Check local reports – you may decide to change camping plans at the last minute.
• Make some noise as you hike or travel. Consider wearing bells or other noisemakers to let animals know you’re coming. (More on that. Keep reading.)
• Vacation with a group. Jog or bike with partners; don’t leave children or pets alone in a campground or let them wander off by themselves.

Third rule – Animal babies are NOT cute.

We pretty much know this by now, but any mother will viciously defend her baby. Many deaths from bear attacks have been because people got between cubs and their mother. Make sure your children understand this rule!

Fourth rule – Hunger drives behavior.

More and more homes are being built in areas that used to belong to wild animals. Climate changes are driving animals closer to human habitation, too.

This means that the traditional sources of food for predators – namely, other smaller wild animals – may have disappeared. Where else can they turn?  To humans.

Bears, coyotes, mountain lions or cougars and alligators can be attracted by garbage. Make sure trash containers are animal-proof, sealed and sturdy. If you’re camping, keep food out of easy reach of wild animals (hang it away from your sleeping area). And for heaven’s sake, don’t take food into a tent with you!

Pet food? Same idea. Small animals may be attracted to the pet food – and in turn may attract larger animals like bears or mountain lions.

If you come across a dead animal, or other stash of food, it may be planned lunch for a larger animal – and that animal may be just out of sight. Don’t let the “owner” think you’re about to steal that meal!

If hungry enough, wild animals may consider people as potential food, too. While attacks are very infrequent, they happen and with grisly results.

Once again, remember the basic rules. Be aware. Hike or bike in groups. Make enough noise that animals won’t be surprised to see you appear around the corner. If you accidentally come across a wild animal, stay calm and back slowly away. Don’t run! Give the animal an escape route. Keep it in sight as you move away, but avoid eye contact, as that is considered a sign of aggression.

Fifth rule – If you are attacked, fight for your life.

The only animals you might be able to outrun are moose. (They don’t see you as food so they give up once they’ve chased you away.)

You might be able to climb a tree to escape a coyote or wolf, but bears and cougars can come right up after you.

If you are being stalked or are confronted . . .
• A coyote can be scared away by noise or aggression. Hold your arms out, open your coat, put a child on your shoulders. Be noisy, look BIG!
• A pack of coyotes may NOT be frightened by your actions. Call for help and get your back against a wall and be prepared to defend yourself from quick attacks aimed at your feet and legs. Use whatever weapons you have. Aim for the animals’ eyes.
Wolf attacks are the rarest of all large predator attacks. Wolves are wary of humans and not aggressive toward them by nature, and if one attacks it’s probably because it has been fed by humans, or is sick. As with a single coyote, be noisy and look BIG, and – unusual for dealing with wild animals – maintain eye contact.
Cougar or mountain lion attacks are also very rare. If looking BIG and threatening doesn’t frighten the cougar away, and it attacks, you must fight back using whatever you have: a stick, backpack, water bottle, shovel or bare hands.
Bears really don’t like people, and they are likely to detect you and leave the area a lot sooner than you will detect them. Should you suddenly surprise a black bear, though, remain calm and do not run. Tell the bear to get away (thus letting it know you are a human). It may make a “fake charge” and then stop. If the bear attacks, fight back immediately and forcefully.
Grizzly bears, like other predators, will defend their territory, their young or their food. If you threaten any of these, they may attack, but if you remove yourself as a threat, they will likely calm down. One way to “remove the threat” is by playing dead – if you have the discipline. If a grizzly sees you as prey, however, it may keep coming. (Note – “Playing dead” seems to work with grizzlys, but not with other bears.)

Weapons for self-defense against wild animals.

Avoiding encounters with wild animals is the best defense. However, if you are trespassing on their territory, it’s best to be prepared with weapons for self-defense.

These weapons can range from firearms to a big knife to a club or walking stick or to pepper spray or bear spray. In every case, you need to have practiced with your weapons so you can reach them quickly and surely. Again, keep reading for a recommendation about bear spray.

Good items to add to your vacation planning list.

If you’re planning a wilderness vacation trip, consider adding these items to your list. They are relatively inexpensive and could actually save your life.

  • Smart camping items

Keep food and food garbage from attracting animals by storing it in odor-barrier bags and/or in bear-resistant containers. Here are examples available at Amazon. (Obviously, you want to dispose of the bags in animal-resistant trash containers.) The bags cost less than $15 for assorted sizes. The plastic, shatter-proof container comes in 4-day or 7-day sizes (weighs around 2 pounds) and costs between $70 and $80 as I write this. Click on the links or images for full details.

BaseCamp Odor-Barrier Bag, Assorted

Bear Vault BV500 Bear Resistant Food Canister

  • Smart hiking items

Let animals know you are coming by wearing bells. This one comes in a variety of finishes (black, chrome, red) and because it costs around $5 is considered an “add on” at Amazon. (The magnetic silencer feature allows you to “turn it off” when you’re not out on the trail.)

Bear Bell w/ Silencer


If you find yourself in a tough spot, you may want to make more noise with a whistle. Again, these are inexpensive additions to your day pack and will give you peace of mind.

ZITRADES 3pcs Emergency Hiking Camping Survival Aluminum Whistle Key Chain With Red/Green/Blue Color

Now for the bear spray. If you’ve read our Advisories for a while, you will have come across a couple of articles about pepper spray for personal safety. THIS IS NOT YOUR MOTHER’S PEPPER SPRAY. It is not meant for that mugger standing 4 feet from you. Bear Spray has extra powerful pepper. The container lays down a cloud of spray well before the bear gets to you — at 25-30 feet.  Start shooting in time, and aim low to get it into the bear’s eyes and nose. (Get a large can of spray to be sure you don’t run out before the bear runs away.)

You must have INSTANT ACCESS to spray to make it useful. Wear it in a holster at your chest or waist, and practice drawing and shooting BEFORE you need it. (Recycle a partially used can responsibly.)

Frontiersman Bear Spray with Chest or Belt Holster- Easy Access, Max Strength – 9.2 oz -Industry Max 35-Foot Range

Don’t think this is everything you need to know!

Different parts of the country experience different wild animal problems. Before you make final plans for your vacation, take the time to check in with experts from the area.

For example,

  • The U.S. Forest Service issues warnings regarding bear encounters.  Google the area where you are heading with the words “bear attacks.”
  • Parks may have special websites all about their wildlife, including ways to interact safely. At http://www.yellowstonepark.com/bear-spray-matters/  you can get info about local conditions and how to purchase or even rent bear spray.
  • Specialty websites are a great source of information about particular animal behavior. A generic resource site can be found at http://westernwildlife.org

As with all threats, the more you know, and the better prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to avoid a disaster.

Enjoy your summer vacation!

Virginia
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

Don't miss a single Advisory.

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