“People put themselves in grave danger when they respond inappropriately during an encounter with wildlife… Selfies are only making the problem worse.” - Born Free USA CEO
Washington, D.C., July 21, 2016 -- According to Born Free USA, a global leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation, in order to safely enjoy hikes and campouts without endangering themselves or wildlife, the public needs to stay alert to their surroundings, and make smart and compassionate decisions.
Over the past two months alone, we have seen an increasing number of incidents involving human conflicts with wild animals, particularly bears. In June, a Pennsylvania man lost his dog after a fatal run-in with a black bear and her cubs; a New Mexico marathon runner suffered injuries from a black bear after inadvertently scaring the bear’s cub; a young bear in California ripped open a tent, presumably foraging for food, injuring the camper inside; and a Montana Forest Service law enforcement officer startled a grizzly bear and was tragically killed. In July, Shenandoah National Park made the decision to close certain trails after a black bear approached a hiker, again looking to the human to provide food.
Animal welfare and wildlife conservation expert Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, explains: “Hiking trails and campsites are filled with natural wildlife populations and it is crucial that enthusiasts are aware of potential encounters, understand how to avoid conflict, and know exactly what to do if it happens. Human conflicts with wildlife are often due to people responding inappropriately when an animal is near. They put the animal and themselves at severe risk by how they react when they see a bear, coyote, bobcat, or other dangerous animal. These animals are wild, wary of humans, and protective of their territory, and should never be lured or encouraged to approach you for any reason.”
Roberts adds, “In the last two years, there has been an increase in people vying for an impressive selfie with animals ranging from seal pups, to bison, to black bears. This is becoming a dangerous epidemic that is reckless and harmful for both the public and wildlife. No selfie is worth getting killed or condemning an animal to death.”
Born Free USA offers these safety tips for outdoor adventures:
- Keep food out of reach and never feed wild animals. Once they become accustomed to hand-outs, they lose their natural wariness and feel comfortable getting closer to humans.
- Resist taking wildlife selfies. Getting close to predators—like black bears—and then turning your back on them can rouse their prey drive and cause them to charge. Even getting too close to non-predatory animals—like bison—for a photo opportunity can also result in tragedy, as they might perceive you as an encroaching threat. Manipulating, touching, or removing wild animals from their habitats for a photo, or for any reason, causes severe anxiety for the animal, and puts everyone at risk for injury or death.
- Beware of hidden animal traps. Steel-jaw leghold traps and other barbaric traps are widely used to catch and kill wild animals for their fur, and trappers often use the same trails and public lands that hikers do. Because traps are indiscriminate and can snap shut on any person or animal who triggers them, they frequently catch “non-targeted” animals, including family pets. Dogs end up maimed or killed as their families struggle to free them. For every target animal caught in a trap, two non-target animals are trapped. Adults and children have also been injured in traps, as reported in this Born Free USA database.
- Bears cause enormous fear for humans in the great outdoors. Most negative black bear encounters are caused by surprising the bears, luring them with food, or giving them a reason to think you are a threat. Bears have an exceptional sense of smell —seven times more powerful than dogs—and can detect odors over a mile away. Avoid packing odorous food and use bear-proof, odor-proof containers. Do not leave food or ice chests on decks or in vehicles, and become familiar with techniques for hanging food out of bears' reach. (Hang food and scented items at least 10 feet off of the ground and five feet from a tree. Be sure that tents, sleeping bags, and clothes are free of lingering food odors.)
- As you travel through bear territory, make plenty of noise to avoid surprising a bear. If you do encounter a black bear, help him/her recognize that you are a human by talking calmly and by slowly waving your arms. During the encounter, do not make loud noises, try to imitate the bear, or run, as running may entice the bear to chase you. Slowly back away, always facing the bear, making no sudden movements, and always leave the bear an escape route. Avoid direct eye contact and pick up small children to prevent them from running and screaming. Contain and restrain dogs.
- A black bear may stand on his/her hind legs as he/she investigates you; a standing bear is usually curious, not aggressive. Black bears may pounce forward on their front feet and bellow loudly, followed by clacking their jaw. This is a sign of fear. Mothers with cubs sometimes make “bluff charges”: short rushes or a series of forward pounces. These are signs of nervousness and not intent to attack. If this happens, momentarily hold your ground. Then, keep backing away and talking softly.
- While camping or hiking, other predators (like coyotes and bobcats) may also be seen moving about their territory. If the animals act afraid of you, either running away or observing you from a safe distance, they are displaying normal, nonaggressive behavior. Aggressive behavior—an animal who does not run from humans or approaches them—is most often a result of habituation due to feeding by humans. If approached by a coyote or bobcat, make loud noises with pots and pans, yell, wave your arms, blow a whistle, or shake a can with rocks. Show dominance and re-instill their natural fear of humans. Do not run, as this may elicit a chase response. If hiking with dogs in coyote country, keep them on a leash. Small dogs may be especially tempting to a coyote.
Roberts explains, “While we all deserve to explore, enjoy, and appreciate nature, we also need to understand that we are visiting the natural habitats and homes of wild animals. We can easily co-exist, as long as we treat the wilderness and its occupants respectfully and thoughtfully.”
Born Free USA is a global leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation. Through litigation, legislation, and public education, Born Free USA leads vital campaigns against animals in entertainment, exotic "pets," trapping and fur, and the destructive international wildlife trade. Born Free USA brings to America the message of "compassionate conservation": the vision of the U.K.-based Born Free Foundation, established in 1984 by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the iconic film Born Free, along with their son, Will Travers. Born Free's mission is to end suffering of wild animals in captivity, conserve threatened and endangered species, and encourage compassionate conservation globally. More at www.bornfreeusa.org, www.twitter.com/bornfreeusa, and www.facebook.com/bornfreeusa.