Quandary: Etiquette tips for handling human-animal interactions
August 18, 2018
What should I do when a person chases me up a tree? Thanks for your help, D.A. Bear.
I feel your pain, D.A. Bear. With all the wild animals in Summit, sometimes people create the most dangerous herd. Whether you're a bear hanging outside a laundromat or a buffalo at Yellowstone, too many people can just spell trouble.
In past columns, I've tried appealing to the people with my common sense tips — keep your distance, don't surpise wildlife and don't linger — but year after year, my warnings seem to go unnoticed.
It can all feel a little unfair at times in the High Country. A moose goes for an evening stroll on a public street and suddenly a herd of people stop to gawk, confusing the moose and creating a real danger not only for the animal, but also the people. Yet, there is nothing the moose can do about it. Imagine if we had the animal equivalent of Colorado Parks and Wildlife — a gaggle of gawkers follow you down the trail and suddenly a bear with a dart gun jumps out, tags them and relocates the humans to their more natural environment down in Denver — that would be nice. But alas, that's just not the way. No matter where you call home, chances are there's some vagabond with a tent and a camera lens that's going to follow you around.
This year has been especially trying with limited natural resources pushing us all closer to each other and creating increased human-animal interactions.
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While we may not be able to completely avoid each other, there are ways we can have safer interactions. On the wildlife side, know that a quick peek into a humble home is probably going to end with an unexpected move at best and a long trip to a "farm" upstate at worst.
On the human side, please know that not all of my animal brethren are as bold as I am. When most animals run into people they get scared, and prolonged fear is when things can get dangerous. If you do see a wild animal, there's nothing wrong with taking a minute to appreciate the splendor — our long hair flowing in the wind and handsome hooves are something to be admired. Just do it from a distance, and maybe don't call Ma, Pa, Little Dan and all the cousins to come see. The smaller the crowd and the less time spent marveling at each other, the more likely we all are to make it home safe at the end of the day.
That's not to say that people are completely at fault in human-animal interactions — just mostly. Sometimes us wild guys get a little too big for our britches and try to make our way into a kitchen for an easy meal and even more often we might accidently stumble across each other on a trail. If you do see wildlife on the trail, keep a safe distance, don't make any sudden motions and pay attention to the animal's body language. Most often we can all go our separate ways, but if you see an animal that's agitated, don't turn and run. Even an old goat like me might be tempted to come after you.
In this situation, you might suddenly find yourself a lot closer to a lot angrier moose than you would like, and trust me, when a moose gets angry no one wins. If the moose charges a human it can do serious damage, and even be potentially lethal once all those hooves start stomping. On the other side, if a spooked Bullwinkle does injure a human, he will most likely be euthanized. And no one wants to be responsible for Rocky living out the rest of his days in solitude, right?
Different animals do require different responses though. If a moose suddenly turns into a maniac, get behind a tree or other large object to keep it from being able to get a direct hit if it charges. If the moose makes contact, play dead. If you meet up with a bear do what your mama always said: stand up straight and speak clearly. You might be piddling in your cargo shorts, but if you look and sound confident, that can be enough to save you. For questions about any specific animals, contact your local ranger district or visit CPW.state.co.us.