Avoiding encounters of the wild kind

Posted Aug. 02, 2011, at 4:49 p.m.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Learning how to respect and respond to wildlife while camping, picnicking, and hiking can mean the difference between co-existing peacefully and being in serious danger.

Born Free USA, the leading animal welfare and wildlife conservation organization, reports that there is an increase in wildlife encounters this time of year because families are enjoying activities that take place at the home of these animals.

According to Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA, “People want to enjoy nature and spend time in the woods amongst wildlife hiking, camping or picnicking, yet many are surprised when they actually encounter a bear, coyote or other animal. People get scared or even angry when this happens, and seem to forget that wildlife belongs in the wild and we are enjoying recreation actually in their home.”

Learning how best to avoid a conflict, and manage any encounter properly, can save lives.

“Fed wildlife is dead wildlife,” explains Roberts.“Keep food out of reach of wildlife and never feed wild animals intentionally or un-intentionally. Once a wild animal becomes accustomed to hand-outs by people, it eventually become regarded as ‘nuisance animals’ which opens the door to lethal control. In addition, fed animals will make a habit of expecting food from people — anyone passing through — ultimately causing conflicts and danger.The number one rule is not to feed any wild animal, ever.”

Coyotes and Bobcats

Aggressive behavior toward people by coyotes and bobcats is most often a result of habituation due to feeding by humans. If approached by a coyote or bobcat, make loud noises (bang pots and pans; blow a horn or whistle; 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.

Black Bears

Most negative black bear encounters are caused by surprising a bear or luring them with food. Bears have an exceptional sense of smell — seven times more powerful than dogs — and can detect odors more than a mile away. Avoid packing odorous food and fragrant non-foods (i.e. lotions), and use bear-proof, odor-proof containers (i.e. airtight canisters). Do not leave food or ice chests on decks or in vehicles.

Become familiar with techniques for hanging food out of bears’ reach. Hang food and scented items at least 10 feet off ground and 5 feet from a tree. Be sure tent, sleeping bags, and clothes are free of lingering food odors.

When hiking or in the back country, make plenty of noise to avoid surprising a bear. If you do encounter a black bear, do not run. This may elicit a chase response in the bear. Slowly back off and allow the bear room to pass or leave. Avoid direct eye contact and pick up small children to prevent them from running and screaming. Contain and restrain dogs.

Black bears may pounce forward on their front feet and blow loudly, followed by clacking of their jaw. This is a sign of fear. Mothers with cubs sometimes make “bluff charges” — short rushes, or a series of forward pounces, also a sign of nervousness and not intent to attack. If this happens, momentarily hold your ground. Then keep backing away and talking softly.

Porcupine and skunk

Skunks always give warning to let their presence be known. They stamp their feet, then point their posterior. Skunks hold fire before spraying and only spray if attacked. If you encounter a skunk suddenly, stand still for a few seconds until the skunk senses that danger has passed and allow him to wonder off. Or take two slow steps back and continue on your way.

Dogs are the most common recipients of skunk spray. If a dog is sprayed, mix 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda and 2 Tablespoons of dish soap. Lather the dog and leave mixture on for three to five minutes before rinsing.

Porcupines are also pacifists preferring to avoid trouble unless threatened. They can be attracted to camp sites, not for food but in search of salt. They will chew on anything with salt including sweaty hiking boots. In areas with porcupines, keep boots inside tents or cars.

Other outdoor dangers

Beware of hidden animal traps. While most people think steel-jawed leghold traps are banned in the US, they are not. These and other traps are widely used to brutally catch wild animals for their fur. Because they snap shut on any animal — or person — that triggers them, these traps frequently capture “non-targeted” animals including family pets. For every target animal caught in a trap, two non-target animals are trapped. Born Free USA has an online database of these non-target incidents at www.bornfreeusa.org/database.

Unsuspecting hikers and others go to trails or parks with their dogs and traps are located along the trails or paths but there is no sign or other warning. When this happens, dogs end up maimed or killed as the hikers struggle (unsuccessfully) to free their dogs in time.

Born Free USA is a nationally recognized 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’s Primate Sanctuary in Texas is home to more than 500 primates rescued from laboratories, roadside zoos, and private possession. 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, now CEO of both organizations. 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; twitter http://twitter.com/bornfreeusa; Facebook http://www.facebook.com/BornFreeUSA.

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