No matter how many safety tips are heard for wildlife viewing in Alaska, there will always be people who get too close, ignore warning signs or end up with a close encounter. Here are some important reminders for all Alaskan outdoor hikers, bikers, frolickers, photographers and enthusiasts, because no matter how much you think you know, a bear will still eat you if given the opportunity.
Be Alert. With Alaska being the Last Frontier, no matter where you are outside, there is probably some kind of wildlife nearby. Walking the dog, walking to your car, driving, jogging or any other activity can be interrupted by Alaska’s wildlife. When you see a moose, bear, caribou or furry other, assess the situation and watch for the animal’s warning signs. Also look for signs or notices posted at the beginning of marked trails; Alaska’s Fish and Game wardens often post information on recent animal activities or encounters in that area. Carrying pepper spray or a firearm is also advised — but only if you know how to use them. Even then, only use a use theses tools as a last resort.
A picture is worth a thousand words… That is, unless you get mauled, trampled or headbutted. That only earns a trip to the E.R. and a story about how you absolutely needed to get two steps closer to get the picture of a newborn moose calf. Remember, any animal, herbivore or not, will be protective of their young and personal space. Also keep in mind that wherever there are wild animals in close proximity to where the general public travels, there will be people not paying attention. So when you step out to cross the Seward Highway in order to get a great shot of a Dall Sheep, do not expect traffic to slow down because the drivers are probably trying to figure out what everyone on the side of the highway is staring at rather than paying attention.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s website states, “Remember, no photo is worth endangering the life or health of wildlife.” No photo is worth your own safety either.
A little fishing never killed anybody… But it may get some wildlife a little too interested in what you are doing. Recreational fishers should remember to keep their catches within 12 feet of them, according to a press release May 23 from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR). Bears like free easy meals too, and when a pile of fish is just lying around they will most likely help themselves. The KNWR also advises leaving backpacks, coolers, and anything that smells like food in vehicles or keeping it within three feet of you in order to lessen bear temptation. The same advice goes with camping out in Alaska’s wild: Be sure to keep foods in bear-safe containers and outside of your sleeping area. Hoisting coolers or food containers into nearby trees when not in use can also deter bears from eating your lunch (or at least they won’t be near you while they are snacking on your PB and J).
Safety in Numbers… The more people you have, the less likely you are to have a wildlife encounter. Groups of four or more will typically scare off any kind of big animal, unless they are protecting a kill or their young. If you do come across an animal with your group that does not retreat immediately, there is probably a reason for it, and you should reroute your adventure. Even though you may not see a calf, cub or kill, that does not mean you should proceed. Animals have certain distances they like to keep from humans, and it is ill advised to try and figure out what distance is too close.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s viewing ethics are as follows: give wildlife plenty of space, learn to recognize signs of alarm, leave “orphaned” or sick animals alone, restrain pets or leave them at home, let animals eat their natural foods, and tread lightly. Finally, Fish and Game notes, be respectful of nesting and denning areas, rookeries (bird colonies), and calving grounds. Following these tips will prevent encounters with Alaska’s wild animals and keep you from getting hurt or in serious trouble.