Unless you’ve been living news-free the past few weeks, you have undoubtedly heard stories of animal & human interactions. And the animals having been getting the short end of the stick. Part of traveling sustainably is being animal-friendly when traveling, so, I’ve put together a list of do’s and don’ts for interacting with animals when you travel!
Don’t Feed the Animals
First of all, animals don’t have the same diets we do. Squirrels shouldn’t eat chips, and moose shouldn’t eat your cold cuts. Second, unsullied wild animals have a healthy fear of humans. We’re not part of their natural habitats. When animals learn that humans provide food, they lose their crucial fear of humans. That’s not only bad for the animals, but also for us! Small animals that approach humans can bite, and large animals’ interactions with humans can end in death for both.
Don’t Approach the Animals
If you’ve caused an animal to change its behavior, you’re too close. Remember, when you’re outdoors, you’re in these animals’ homes. National Parks are magical because they allow us to experience the pristine outdoors--but they won’t stay magical if the animals’ lives constantly get disrupted by careless humans.
Don’t Hunt or Fish the Animals without a Permit
National Parks and other outdoors areas have very delicate ecosystems. (In fact, if you have the time, here’s a lovely video explaining what happened in Yellowstone National Park when wolves were reintroduced.) Hunting and fishing can be necessary to cull herds or schools. The hunting and fishing licenses give the Departments of Fish & Wildlife a good idea of how, for example, the elk herds or the trout are going to be affected by hunting. They can adjust the bagging limits based on the demand for licenses.
Don’t Take a Selfie with the Animals
Selfie deaths are increasing. (Read this cautionary tale about a woman gored by a buffalo in Yellowstone National Park.) Wild animals aren’t necessarily dangerous, as long as you give them space, and you are aware of your surroundings. Taking a selfie, especially when you are too close to the animal to begin with, prevents you from being aware of your surroundings. If you’re not paying attention, you might not realize how uneasy the animal might be feeling.
Do Not Touch the Animals
No, really. Even if you think they’re cold. Even if they appear to be abandoned by their mother. Even if they appear to be injured. If you are genuinely concerned about a wild animal, alert a park ranger. There is literally no reason you should be touching a wild animal!
Hopefully I haven’t completely put you off wildlife interaction! It’s a majestic experience to see baby bighorn sheep playing together or a herd of elk move as one. There are fantastic (and safe!) ways you can interact with animals in the wild!
Observe from a Safe Distance
Observing animals in their natural habitat is the coolest! But scaring animals away because you’re too close won’t let you observe their habits. Bring binoculars to observe the animals from far away. Make sure they always have an avenue of escape, in case you do get too close. And if you do it right, they won’t even know you’re there!
Photos of wild animals are so rewarding! And so are videos! It’s a great way to remember the time you saw a mama moose cuddling with her baby. But again: safe distance and respectful quietude.
Visit a Well-Researched Zoo or Preserve
Not all zoos and preserves are built equally. The San Diego Zoo, for example, has a fantastic reputation for conservation outside of their zoo. Nearby Sea World, however, does not. If the treatment of the animals at a particular facility is of concern to you, ask your travel agent—we can always get the answers!
Support Your Parks
If you love animals, the best way you can support them is by visiting your parks (national, state, or other)! These parks exist to conserve the animals and their natural habitats. And while they rely on federal, state, or local money, often they still need the monetary support that admissions bring in. And take advantage of the programs these parks offer! You might get to go on a guided tour to see animals you wouldn’t have seen otherwise!
Take these tips and apply them towards your next outdoor adventure! Instead of thinking, “Oh, I’m going to go on a hike,” think about how your hike can make a positive impact on the local animals. Be aware of your surroundings, and maybe you’ll get to snap a pic of a mama moose and her baby!
Now get out there and go!