Hey Travelers! Leave the Wild Animals Alone!

wild bison in Yellowstone
••• A wild bison in Yellowstone National Park. Kraig Becker

For most travelers, there is an undeniable thrill that comes along with spotting wild animals in their natural habitat. It is the reason why whale watching tours and African safaris have become so popular, and America's national parks continue to draw millions of visitors each year. But recently there have been a series of high profile incidents involving travelers getting a bit too close to the wildlife, often resulting in injury to them or the animals, some of which even have to be euthanized as a result of their interactions with humans.

These types of encounters have been taking place too frequently in recent years, which is why now is as good a time as ever to remind travelers to leave the wild animals alone. 

Some of the most high profile encounters between travelers and wild animals have taken place in Yellowstone National Park, where visitors have taken to shooting selfies with a bison in the background. The problem is, the bison aren't particularly fond of people, particularly when they wander too close. As a result, they frequently end up charging the person, sometimes tossing them into the air or even stomping on them when they are knocked to the ground. 

In 2015 alone, at least five people were gored by bison in the park when they wandered too close to the animals, some of which can run up 2000 pounds in weight. While none of those people were actually killed, some of them did sustain serious injuries that could have easily been avoided had they respected the fact that wild animals are unpredictable and can attack within seconds if they happen to feel threatened.

On top of that, National Park regulations require all visitors to stay at least 100 yards away from bear and wolves and maintain a minimum safe distance of 25 yards from bison, elk, and other creatures too. Travelers who get any closer than that are not just breaking the rules, but are putting themselves in danger of being attacked too.

The result of their behavior can have serious consequences, and could even lead to death. 

Stories of Danger

Then, of course, there is the recent story of the father and son who were visiting Yellowstone and came across a young bison calf that they thought was freezing to death. They stopped and loaded the animal up in their car with the idea of delivering it to a park ranger who they believed could save it. The calf was later returned to its herd, but had to be euthanized when it was not accepting back into the bison population. It was also exhibiting unsafe behavior as it continued to approach other park visitors. 

While the two men involved in this story obviously had good intentions, they forgot that the wild animals in the park are indeed truly wild. They are adapted to living in the conditions that are found there and can generally take care of themselves. Had they left this particular calf alone, it more than likely would have survived just fine on its own. That said however, life and death is part of the process for all of these creatures, which is something that we all have to accept as well. 

In Africa, safari operators are very careful when leading guests out into the bush.

They know that there are plenty of creatures there that can – and will – attack humans if we get too close. Those same creatures will frequently wander into a safari camp in search of something to eat, which is why it is important that you always place food in an animal-proof canister and take great pains to clean up your trash too. It is not unheard of for predators to approach a campsite in the night, and end up having a dangerous encounter with travelers staying there. Those types of run-ins can be greatly limited by using common sense and by having respect for the natural environment and the creatures that inhabit it. 

Even the recent alligator attack that claimed the life of a young boy at Disney World shows that we need to be more vigilant and have more respect for wildlife. While one doesn't expect to encounter dangerous creatures while visiting "the happiest place on Earth," there were signs posted along the lagoon where the boy was killed warning visitors to stay out of the water and beware of the alligators.

These travelers didn't take those warnings seriously enough, and as a result, this tragedy occurred. Being more aware of our surroundings and the potential threats we face can help reduce the chances of coming across a dangerous animal, potentially saving our own lives in the process. 

The Importance of Distance

As someone who has visited numerous national parks, been to Africa on multiple occasions, and gone on safari, I completely understand the allure of spotting these creatures in the wild. What I don't understand is the complete lack of regard for safety when dealing with these unpredictable creatures. I do know however that by giving them plenty of distance, respecting that we are in their space, and by using a bit of common sense, we can all witness wildlife in its natural domain, and come home safely to share the story with friends and family. Anything other approach is just foolish and dangerous, with consequences that can be deadly.