Wildlife Safety While Camping
Encountering wildlife is an exciting part of any outdoor adventure. However, it's important to prioritize your own safety and respect for the animals that inhabit these natural spaces. Whether you're camping in bear country, exploring areas with snakes and scorpions, or encountering other potentially dangerous creatures, being prepared and knowledgeable can be a life-saving skill set. In this guide, we'll provide valuable wildlife safety tips for the North American wilderness to help you navigate encounters with predatory and sensitive wildlife while camping.
Camping Safety with Bears
Bears are common in many wilderness areas across North America. Whether you’re exploring black bear or grizzly bear country, you’ll want to be sure to incorporate some of these strategies into your arsenal. Bears are an incredible species to observe in their natural habitat, but they are also extremely dangerous animals. In North America, black bears attack less than 1 person per year on average. Their more aggressive cousin, the grizzly bear, is known to be a bit more dangerous, with 183 recorded attacks in North America from 2000-2015. If you find yourself in Alaska or Northern Canada, you should also be cautious of polar bears, who are also responsible for 3-4 attacks per year worldwide. When camping in bear country, follow the following guidelines.
- Secure your food. Utilize bear-resistant containers or hang food and scented items away from your campsite.
- Store your food and supplies properly. Keep your sleeping area, cooking area, and food storage separate to avoid attracting bears.
- Make noise and be loud while hiking or moving through dense vegetation to alert bears of your presence and avoid surprising them.
- If attacked by a brown bear, you’re advised to lie very still and “play dead.” This will increase your chance of survival. Brown bears can climb trees and can run as fast as 35 mph.
- If attacked by a black bear, you’re advised to fight back. These bears tend to be a bit more skittish and may flee the scene if you make enough noise and fight back fiercely.
- Do not ever approach or provoke a wild bear. If you spot a bear on the trail, you should attempt to calmly leave the area, giving a wide berth of space to the bear while doing so.
Encountering snakes is a possibility in many camping areas, and understanding how to navigate these slithering creatures is crucial to your safety. North America is home to 20 known venomous species of snake. 7,000-8,000 people per year are bitten by snakes in America, with 5-10 annual fatalities. Follow the strategies below to protect yourself from becoming one of these statistics.
- Familiarize yourself with the snake species in the region and learn to identify venomous snakes.
- Watch your step and stay on trails, avoid tall grass, and exercise caution when stepping over logs or rocks where snakes may hide.
- Give snakes their space and avoid approaching or provoking them, as most snakes will not attack unless threatened.
North American Big Cats
While encounters with big cats are rare, there are a few species of feline to watch out for on this continent. The following big cats can be found on the North American continent, though they very rarely interact with humans: Jaguar (Mexico), Cougar (Canada - Central America), Ocelot (Mexico - Central America), Jaguarundi (Southern Texas - Central America), Bobcat (Southern Canada - Central Mexico), Canada Lynx (Alaska & Canada).
- Make regular noise while hiking to alert big cats of your presence and minimize surprise encounters.
- Travel in groups. Hiking in larger groups is generally safer, as big cats are more likely to be deterred by larger numbers.
- Stand your ground. If you encounter a big cat, do not run. Instead, maintain eye contact, make yourself appear larger, and slowly back away.
Coyotes are often encountered in camping areas, and understanding how to interact with them is an important part of your safety preparation. While there have only been two recorded coyote-related deaths in the US and Canada (1980 & 2009), these are still creatures that you ought to exercise caution with. Follow the guidelines below to stay safe around coyotes.
- Keep food and trash stored securely to avoid attracting coyotes to your campsite.
- Keep pets leashed. Coyotes may perceive small pets as prey, so keep them on a leash and under supervision at all times.
- If approached by a bold or aggressive coyote, make loud noises, throw objects, or use a whistle to deter them.
Other Dangerous Creatures
Apart from bears, snakes, big cats, and coyotes, it's essential to be aware of other potentially dangerous wildlife in your camping area. There are over 70 species of scorpions in North America, with one, the bark scorpion, being considered dangerous to humans. Other dangerous creatures include wolverines, badgers, and spiders. Make sure you research other local wildlife and familiarize yourself with possible dangerous or venomous species in your area. Always respect animals’ boundaries when hiking and camping, and don’t try to approach or feed any creature in the wild. Also, make sure you always have a first aid kit with you, including resources for treating bites, stings, and other wildlife-related injuries.
By following these wildlife safety tips, you can ensure a secure and respectful camping experience while encountering predatory and sensitive wildlife. Remember to research specific guidelines and recommendations for the area you plan to visit and always prioritize safety, respect, and the preservation of nature.
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