While camping up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this weekend, I woke up to Kendra excitedly whispering, “Jen, get up! There’s a moose!!!”
Dazed, I stumbled out of the tent in my wool socks, right into a group of people gathered at the end of our campsite. At first it was hard for my blurry eyes to spot the moose among the trees, but then I saw it! We were all quietly enthralled, until I noticed a young boy approaching the moose from the opposite direction. Camera in hand, he crept through the woods.
His mom was standing with us, and after I expressed concerns, she shouted for him to back away from the moose and come over to us instead. At first, he didn’t listen. My heart was pounding at the thought of this little 8-9 year old kid being trampled by a startled moose.
I totally understood where he was coming from – who DOESN’T want to get a picture of the moose in the campground? Heck, I WANTED that picture too! The difference being, I would never put others or myself in danger by approaching a wild animal. There are reasons I have a 300mm lens for my camera, and this was one of them.
A little later, the same mother asked my why it was such a big deal if her kid went near the moose. I explained to her they are often 6 feet tall, weighing anywhere between 500-1500 lbs. Looking at me nonplussed, she replied that she couldn’t understand why her kids needed to stay away from the animal because, “it looked so cute and harmless.” Apparently the woman had never seen Gremlins, or should would have learned that lesson already.
Sadly, my words had no effect on her judgment, and she allowed her kids to again approach the moose. Fortunately, before they got too close, a park ranger showed up and reinforced my warnings.
Turned out the moose was a pregnant female – probably one of the most dangerous types of wild animals to approach. Having lived with a very pregnant Kendra, I know from experience not to mess with a woman and her unborn child.
Being in the outdoors is a great experience, but it comes with a great responsibility as well. You need to respect your surroundings, and the animals that live in the environment. Wild animals are not programmed to coexist with human beings, and even the most seemingly docile will attack if they feel threatened.
You can turn any wildlife sighting into a learning experience by talking to your child about the animal and its habitat, while at the same time teaching awareness, safety, and appreciation of animals and nature. The Gabriola Rescue of Wildlife Society in British Columbia, Canada, has a great resource for parents – Teaching Young Children About Wildlife. You can also teach your children the principles of Leave No Trace ethics, which include respect for wild animals.
As a parent, it is especially important that we model this responsibility to our children. Approaching, or allowing our children to approach wildlife, sends them the message that such behavior is okay. The ignorance of the mother at my campsite was a form of negligence – her children could have been killed because of her poor judgement. It is our responsibility to teach our children how to stay safe in the woods – don’t leave it up to a wild animal!
General Safety Tips
- The type of wild animals you may encounter will vary depending on the region you are hiking/camping. Prior to your trip, familiarize yourself with the local animal population, and specific precautionary measures and safety responses for each animal.
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Try not to startle a wild animal. As you are hiking, chat with other people in your group, or tie a bell to your pack to warn of your approach.
- If you do come across a wild animal, don’t make eye contact; just slowly back away. Do not approach or try to feed the animal.
- If you see a baby animal, make sure to evaluate your surroundings. Mom will not be far away, and you will want to make sure not to get in between them.
- Don’t attract wild animals – be careful with food preparation and storage. Leaving food in your tent overnight is an open invitation for a visit from many wild animals.
- If you’re in bear country, carry bear spray.
Finally, don’t let the fear of an animal attack keep you from venturing outdoors! Over the years I have seen black bears, moose, deer, mule deer, snakes, wolves, foxes, marmots, ground squirrels, chipmunks, toads, and lizards, and lived to tell the tale! It is rare for unprovoked animals to attack a human being, so as long as you take precautions, and are respectful of the environment and wildlife, you will greatly minimize any potentially negative encounter.