Safe distances from wildlife

sign says human food isn't good for wild animals they fare better on natural foods

sign warning of animals that want to join you for lunch

poster says keep wildilfe wild never approach or feed wildlife

This page includes reasons to stay away from even friendly seeming animals in parks

If there’s a group of people, is it safer to be near wildlife?
What if an animal approaches me?
What if an animal begs for food?

and charts and photos to better be able to determine and visualize how far away from wildlife you need to stay to be safe (and obey laws that do have penalties).

NPS drawing of a human and various animals showing how far away we need to stay from wild animals

Many National and State park rules say do not approach wildlife, stay 100 yards from bears or wolves and 25 yards from other wildlife including nesting birds.

Keep the animal’s line of travel or escape route clear and move away if wildlife approaches you.

How far away is 100 yards? Picture the length of a football field without the end zones.

25 yards? picture four car lengths or six kayak lengths, or the width of an Olympic-sized pool like ours at the college.

row of buses depicting distance to stay away from animals

In many national parks, if you have an accidental, surprise or inadvertent closer encounter with wildlife you must remove yourself to those distances, including while driving on a road.

people watching wildlife with arrows showing 100 yards and 25 yards

wildlife with arrows showing distance from her

people in relation to distance to animals

Grand Canyon National Park rangers say: “Follow the rule of thumb: if you can cover the entire wild animal with your thumb you’re at a safe distance. This distance is usually 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from large wildlife . . . If you are close enough to take a selfie with an animal, you are too close. ”

 
All is well when the moose is up on a hill, but when he decides to come down, cross the road, and head for his mid-day napping/hiding place, people need to give him a lot more room than these did:

people too close to moose one: photographers too close to moose:

And here, a girl sitting too close to an elk:
girls sits very near an elk

 

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The National Park Service says:

See something, say something. Tell a ranger if you come into physical contact with wildlife. Also, tell a ranger if you see wildlife that are sick, dead, or acting strangely, including wildlife that approach you. And when you see people who aren’t following these guidelines, let them know what they can do to be a smart wildlife watcher, too, and contact a ranger if necessary. . .”

“Wildlife can be dangerous for your pets. Large animals like moose can trample anything underfoot, and some birds can even fly off with small pets in their talons. Pets look like prey to many wildlife, so they will act accordingly, giving chase and possibly killing your pet, even when on a leash.”

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Parks Canada warns,
along with keeping a proper distance from animals
:

“If you spot the following defensive warning signals, pull back even more or leave the area:

Bears make a ‘woofing’ noise, growl and snap their jaws;
Bull elk and moose put their heads down and paw at the ground;
Cow elk flatten their ears, stare directly at you and raise their rump hair.

If you cause an animal to move, you are too close.”

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Rangers are often patrol at areas like Mammoth in Yellowstone, because elk are often in the vicinity of people:

ranger and people keeping a proper distance from elk

and because, even with
warning handouts given to people as they enter the park,
warnings when checking into hotel rooms / campgrounds,
and warning signs,

photographers get too close.

photographer too close to elk, with sign that says danger do not approach elk

 

Photographers need telephoto lenses to get the great photo from the distances away from animals that parks require by law. Can you spot the dot (grizzly bear) at the center near the top of the photo below?

two photographers with long lenses

You can stay far enough away from animals if you have a telephoto lens for your camera,

three photographers

and get a photo of animals other people won’t even be able to see:

two moose

Stay safe behind and in front of the camera.

Some areas known for attracting photographers to see animals will have signage, for example, the poster duct-taped on this pylon
“WARNING, Due to bear danger area beyond this sign CLOSED to all travel.”

people and tripods along a roadway edge

 

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from a Yellowstone report:
“Despite their size and seemingly slow moving habits, bison are surprisingly agile and can be quick to react.”

This photographer might have thought he was far enough away because he had a wall between him and the bison, but bison (1,000 to 2,000 pounds) are capable of hopping quickly over walls:

bison halfway over a wall

Before bison charges has more, including what people were doing before a bison charged them, and injuries they received.

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At a stop to get takeout food at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National park, we saw people in a group. This usually means either a tour bus group, or … moose in the parking lot.

two moose in parking lot:

The children in the picture above were allowed to get much too close.

The juvenile moose became separated from mom and then got nervous and ran back.

juvenile moose runs across parking lot lane:

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Rocky Mountain national park had this advice::

What if I want to get an animal’s attention?
Calling, clicking, whistling or making noises of any kind to attract wildlife is illegal. Animals deserve to enjoy the park without disruption just as you do.

If there’s a group of people, is it safer to be near wildlife?
Traveling in groups can help keep you safe, but that does not mean you are safer to get closer to animals. Whether it’s just you or 20 people, keep the long distance. As crowds gather (as they often do), wildlife can quickly feel threatened and, in their panic, harm people. This is especially the case as people start to surround the animal(s), even if they are at the proper distance, because the wildlife may feel trapped. If people around you stop maintaining the safe distance, don’t be afraid to speak up and remind your fellow visitors of the safe distance rules. Sometimes, in the moment, anyone could use a gentle reminder that long-distance relationships with wildlife are better for everyone.

What if an animal approaches me?
Wildlife may not know better, but YOU do. Although it may feel flattering, if any kind of wildlife approaches you, back away and maintain that safe distance. It’s your responsibility and your safety—help us keep wildlife wild.

Can I feed the animals?
Perhaps you’ve fed animals in petting zoos before, but national parks are different. Help us keep this place and these animals unique by never feeding them.
Feeding wildlife is prohibited. Even feeding animals grass from the park or other food you think might be harmless is not allowed. This is for their safety as well as yours.
Wildlife will invade food left unattended, even those in bear-proof containers or coolers. Store food in your vehicle’s trunk, out of sight, with the windows completely closed, or in site-provided storage lockers. Use our wildlife-proof containers to dispose trash, and ensure you clean up all food particles.
Food, coolers, and dirty cookware left unattended, even for a short time, are subject to confiscation by park rangers and citations.

(Please note that in Yosemite bears actually break in to vehicles, so the advice above from Rocky Mountain national park to “Store food in your vehicle’s trunk” is not applicable to Yosemite, and could become the wrong thing to do anyplace you might vacation, so check with the park in advance of your trip. See Black Bear Management Trends for many stories about people who did not store food properly, and the warning: “Remember that proper food storage in Yosemite includes being within arms’s reach when your food is not otherwise stored legally . . . Improper food storage may result in impoundment of your food or car, a fine of up to $5,000, and/or revocation of your camping permit.”.)

What if an animal begs for food?
Animals can easily pick up scavenging practices, so never feed them. Animals stay healthier when you do not feed them. And, once they learn to beg, they can become aggressive, more likely to get injured by vehicles, and become seriously ill. They do not need your food handouts to survive. You can help us curtail this unwanted behavior from animals by putting your food away and moving away from the animal. Ask a ranger for other ways you can help.

Ah, but what harm could one person really do when they get too close or toss a piece of food to an animal? I’ve been up close to wildlife before!
Some of us might think of ourselves as “animal whisperers” or be really familiar with certain kinds. We can certainly appreciate that, but consider using your gift to help our national parks be a place where wildlife can be wild. That’s why you and all of our other guests have come to appreciate these special places. Be a role model to others in your family or group and even other visitors by embodying our mission to protect and preserve our wildlife.

Risks to you include:
• Bites, scratches, and/or bruises
• Infectious diseases
• Internet/media fame for a very undesirable reason (Have you seen the number of YouTube videos and news reports of people getting attacked by wild animals because they got too close?)
• Damage to your vehicle or belongings
• Animal waste in or on your belongings (or you) when you do not secure and store your food properly
• Pesky and persistent animals that could become aggressive
• In rare cases, severe injuries or even death

Risks to wildlife include:
• Diseases
• Poor health
• Increased likelihood of being killed by vehicle traffic because they are drawn to visitor areas
• Euthanasia when animals become aggressive or harmful to visitors
• Injuries
• Young wildlife may be abandoned

photographers too close to a bear:
people on roadway next to their cars, too close to a bear

 

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sign that says DO NOT FEED THE FOXES If you feed foxes: They will be unhealthy and may die. You risk exposure to rabies. We will have to kill the fox for rabies testing if you get bitten. You could be fined.

This sign above in Grand Teton National park campgrounds details what can happen if you decide to feed the foxes that are all over the area:

DO NOT FEED THE FOXES

If you feed foxes:

They will be unhealthy and may die.

You risk exposure to rabies.

We will have to kill the fox for rabies testing if you get bitten.

You could be fined.

thin line of various colors of rocks

Yellowstone Park has this advice: “Your Safety in Wolf Country

Wolves are not normally a danger to humans, unless humans habituate them by providing them with food. No wolf has attacked a human in Yellowstone, but a few attacks have occurred in other places.

Like coyotes, wolves can quickly learn to associate campgrounds, picnic areas, and roads with food. This can lead to aggressive behavior toward humans.

What You Can Do

• Never feed a wolf or any other wildlife. Do not leave food or garbage outside unattended. Make sure the door is shut on a garbage can or dumpster after you deposit a bag of trash.

• Treat wolves with the same respect you give any other wild animal. If you see a wolf, do not approach it.

• Never leave small children unattended.

• If you have a dog, keep it leashed.

• If you are concerned about a wolf—it’s too close, or is not showing sufficient fear of humans— do not run. Stop, stand tall, and watch what the wolf does. If it approaches, wave your arms, yell, flare your jacket. If it continues, throw something at it or use bear pepper spray. Group up with other people, and continue waving and yelling.

• Report the presence of wolves near developed areas or any wolf behaving strangely.
To date, eight wolves in Yellowstone National Park have become habituated to humans. Biologists successfully conducted aversive conditioning on some of them to discourage being close to humans, but two had to be killed.

. . . If you are concerned about a wolf — it’s too close, or is not showing sufficient fear of humans — do not run. Stop, stand tall, and watch what the wolf does. If it approaches, wave your arms, yell, flare your jacket. If it continues, throw something at it or use bear pepper spray. Group up with other people, and continue waving and yelling.”

Info on the use of bear pepper spray is at:

https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/bearspray.htm

https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/bearreact.htm

poster says Carry bear spray, know how to use it

And see: Wolf pack territories in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks (surveys / charts / maps of the territories of wolf packs for many years) and wolf watching tips, with photos and drawings showing the size comparison of a wolf, coyote and a fox.

 

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This man is not only risking serious injuries if he falls into the near-boiling point water at this Yellowstone geyser,
he is also a role-model for any kids watching who think they can do what he is doing:

man standing on the narrow boards at the top of a railing

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Was that a wolf or a coyote? An elk or a moose?

nps drawing bears: drawing of a black bear and a grizzly for comparison Rocky Mountain mammal size comparisons NPS photo Yellowstone wildlife montage Robert Hynes 180 pxls:

Rocky Mountain mammal size comparisons has photos and comparisons of beavers, squirrels, pika, marmot, elk, moose, bison, fox, coyote, wolf, golden-mantled ground squirrel, chipmunk, Red Squirrel (also known as) Chickaree, Unita Ground squirrels, bobcat, lynx, mountain lion (cougar), pine marten, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, grizzly and black bears, tundra swan, trumpeter swan, adult and juvenile Bald Eagles.

row of rocks carved into brick shapes

sign that says no selfies with the seals If you get too close mother seals may abandon their pups

mom and pup seal

baby seal

seal resting head on a rock

seal lying on side on beach

drawing of three school buses in a row to represent 150 feet to stay away from seals

 
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Grand Teton National Park birds includes Bald Eagle, Canada Goose, Golden Eagle, Great Blue Heron, Great Gray Owl, Harlequin Duck, Loon, Magpie, Northern Flicker (woodpecker), Osprey, Pelican, Ouzel, Peregrine Falcon, Raven, Sandhill Crane, Steller’s Jay and Trumpeter Swan, with links to calls / songs from most of them to listen to.

 

your safety in grizzly bear territory tells you what to do if you see a grizzly in the distance or if a bear charges you and has info about Bear Pepper Sprays.

Before a bison charges

Top reasons not to speed in a National Park

How to not collide with a deer,

wildlife jams

fatal, near fatal or close call incidents/accidents in camping, backpacking, climbing and mountaineering is a collection of some of the true stories I use in my wilderness first aid class to illustrate how the wilderness is not dangerous, it’s the people who aren’t prepared, who don’t know what they are doing, or who take inordinate risks, that are the danger.

Cell phones in the wilderness has advice on how/when to use a cell phone to contact 911 in the wilderness and a warning about interference between cell phones, iPods and avalanche beacons.

NPS drawing that says your cell phone is not a light source, NOT a map, not a survival kit, NOT always going to have reception

Thunderstorm and lightning safety includes a warning about not using your cell phone or IPod during a storm.

The use of cell phones for photography (with or without a selfie stick) has made preventable injury or even death by selfie common They were just taking a selfie . . .

Yosemite National Park regulations, policies and rules links

Parking and traffic jams in Yosemite valley tips and tricks

Prepare for winter driving has a link to bad weather driving tips, tips for using tire chains, tricks for dealing with frozen car locks, how to prepare your vehicle for winter driving, how to de-fog the windows, a winter survival kit for your car and what to do if you get stranded

Road trip advice and etiquette has ideas for limiting boredom, getting along on a road trip and some packing and safety tips.

GPS is not infallible

Safe driving in rain and fog

 
Where were they when they got that great picture in Yosemite?


Where can I take a photo that looks like the one on a Yosemite postcard I just bought?
Places to take photos of Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Staircase Falls.

 

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This warning from Canada can apply to any long-distant drive: “Visitors to large cities and popular tourist destinations should be aware that parked cars are regularly targeted for opportunistic smash-and-grab thefts, and they are cautioned to avoid leaving any unattended possessions in a vehicle, even in the trunk. Due to the high incidence of such crimes, motorists in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and some other jurisdictions can be fined for leaving their car doors unlocked or for leaving valuables in view. Visitors should exercise precaution to safeguard their property.”

sign that says please do not leave valuables in your car

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bear walking along fallen tree

The Yosemite National Park rangers would like you to call them if you see a bear in Yosemite,
no matter where it is or what it is doing,
at 1 (209) 372-0322.

If you can, in all the excitement, try to notice if the bear has a tag (usually on the ear), the color of the tag and if possible, the number on it (the tag is large enough that with a telephoto you should be able to read the number).

bear with ear tag

NPS bear tracks: bearlogo: from the Keep Bears Wild program NPS bear tracks:

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