7 Rules for Safe Wildlife Encounters

Whether you’re in the wilds of Canada, the Australian outback or on the African savannah, there are essential rules everyone needs to know before ever encountering a wild animal. Bears, elephants, snakes – they’re all beautiful to watch from a distance (well, people may argue against snakes) but up close things can turn deadly quickly, which is why there are key steps to take to ensure a safe encounter everytime.

Wildlife guides all over the world will tell you that to be in the presence of such majestic beasts as a pride of lions, a pod of whales or a herd of caribou, is truly a wondrous thing that everyone should experience. They will also share with you the basic rules below. Some species are easily spotted while others require experience, knowledge and persistence to find and view and obviously there are specific things to keep in mind for each animal or area you encounter. (For example, be sure to read our blog about “What not to do while on an African Safari.“) That’s why doing a bit of research before you go is always a good idea. But if you heed these 7 rules and follow the advice of your local guide, you’re sure to have a happy, and safe, wildlife experience that you’ll remember forever.

#1. Research

Do a bit of research before you go so you get a sense of what animals you’re going to be seeing and what their behaviour is like. For example, are you visiting during mating season? If so, males are likely to be more aggressive.

#2. Hire a Guide

We at GuideAdvisor are always a fan of this rule but in the case of animal viewing it’s even more important to hire professional wildlife guides who not only know where the animals can be found but also the nuances of their behaviour.

#3. Never Approach Wildlife

The majority of snake bites in Australia are caused by people approaching them with rakes or other paraphernalia to, ironically, try and dissuade the animals from biting them. The mantra is, “Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone.” Any sort of movement towards an animal may be construed as threatening and they’ll either go into flight or fight mode. In the United Statesand Canada this behaviour is seen all the time by tourists who are driving through national parks and stop on the side of the road, get out of their cars and approach elk, mountain sheep, or even bears to get a better photograph. Please do not do this.

#4. Never Feed Wildlife

As with the #3, do not approach or offer food to an animal. You may think they’re cute and cuddly and would love to snack on some of the potato chips you’re holding but these are not pets – you might just lose a hand along with those chips. Plus wild animals are not adapted to eat our food – no matter what you feed them, they could become very sick. Stay back and keep those Doritos to yourself.

#5. Make Noise

Unless otherwise instructed by your wildlife guide, be sure to make noise while hiking in the wilderness. Animals are not that keen on encountering humans and will be sure to steer clear if they hear you (or feel you, as in the case with snakes) approaching. Obviously the one exception to this rule is when you’re in an animal viewing blind or sanctuary that is protected and you want to be quiet to encourage wildlife to approach.

#6. Carry Bear Bangers or “Bear Spray” as a Last Resort

There are different laws around the world for these type of items so again, be sure to research before you go. Bear bangers are a pen-sized spring-loaded device that fires a firecracker about 30 feet towards an animal that may be too close for comfort. The resultant bang scares them so they retreat in the other direction away from you. As for bear spray, this is a very last resort device and only works within 8 feet. It’s imperative you read the instructions of how to use these two products and know the travel rules related to them. (Neither can be carried on a plane for example.)

#7. Bring a Camera

Ninety-nine percent of wildlife encounters are magical so be sure to record it for future boasting rights.

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