Avoid Unsafe Wildlife Encounters With These Quick Tips

This is the time of the year when I am on high alert every time we leave our home in Yellowstone National Park.  Wildlife are everywhere — between calving elk, the bears who are going after those aforementioned calves, and bison, we have a host of potential dangers directly out our front door (quite literally).  It's enough to frazzle this mama's nerves as I go on walks and bike rides with my three young children (two of which are often on their own bikes, furthering the fact that they are out of my control).

Keep Kids Safe from Wildlife

While living in a National Park is unique in many ways, dealing with the potential aggressive behaviors of wildlife and/or predators while out adventuring as a family is not.  Bear, moose, elk, lions, snakes and a host of smaller (though definitely potentially dangerous) animals call the wilderness home too — and may not like the fact that you're "invading" their turf.

All that said, cooping up in the indoors in response to nervousness or being afraid is certainly not a good answer.  The actual likelihood of having an encounter with aggressive wildlife is low and getting outside is crucial for all ages.

The trick is to be aware, be respectful of the animals and learn how to handle the situation should you suddenly find yourself dealing with aggressive animals.

Wildlife encounters with kids

While the recommendations for dealing with every animal you could possibly encounter are slightly different, there are some main points to keep in mind.
  1. First and foremost, don't let fear keep you from getting outside.  Again, the likelihood of an actual encounter (especially when taking precautions) is statistically very low.  And the benefits of outdoor time for you and your family has enough healthy benefits to outweigh the potential risks.
  2. Know what you are up against.  New to an area?  Ask around and research.  Most encounters are with people who are simply uneducated about possible dangers.  Around here, most people that are charged by elk (the current biggest danger) are ones not aware of babies and mamas, and simply get too close.
  3. Teach your kids/all members in your group.  Use your adventures as an opportunity to role play "what if"s and talk about possible dangers and why we do what we do.  Keep it positive, up beat and matter-of-fact.
  4. Bring protection.  We carry bear spray with us most of the year.  And, quite honestly, it's not usually for the bears.  The pepper spray solution also effectively deters angry elk, moose and bison if needed.  Know how to USE it too and make sure your spray isn't expired.  Engage it to test on a non-windy day away from all people.  It's peace of mind to know HOW to use it!
  5. Travel in numbers.  Bigger groups are intimidating to wildlife.
  6. Be loud!  Noise on the trail is one of the best things you can do to deter an encounter.  Let the kids yell, laugh, sing and play!  Wildlife will know you are coming and stay away.
  7. Respect the Wildlife by just keeping your distance and giving them space.
  8. Unplug!  Keep your ears and eyes open for possible dangers and to simply enjoy your experience.  You're more engaged, more peaceful and will remember it so much better.

Kids and wildlife It is not recommended to let kids goof around near wildlife. Photo by Andy Hawbaker

When we are out exploring and enjoying the wild, it's important to remember the animals are part of it too.  They should be respected and feared (in a healthy they-are-not-pets way!)  Being a safe and responsible hiker/camper/adventurer keeps it enjoyable for everyone.


Editor's Note: Amelia Mayer is a regular contributor to the Sierra Social Hub as part of #TeamSierra. Learn more from her about raising outdoor children on her blog: Tales of a Mountain Mama.

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Amelia Mayer
As a member of #TeamSierra, Amelia Mayer receives promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post. Amelia lives with her husband and three young children in Yellowstone National Park. She writes over at Tales of a Mountain Mama and tweets, too, about their attempts to continue an active, outdoor lifestyle now that babies and kids are in the mix while hiking, camping, biking, skiing and doing plenty of exploring. She shares her triumphs, lessons learned (often the hard way) and best picks for gear to help get families outside.
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