Survive A Wild Animal Encounter

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Living at 9.750’ in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains means that encounters with wild life are going to occur on occasion. As we humans spill over into their habitat it is important that we live in harmony with wild animals. When you reside in their habitat there will be encounters and how you handle those encounters is important. We have made a conscious effort to not disrupt their lifestyle but peacefully co-exist with them.

We have black bear, elk, deer, coyote, bobcat, lynx, grey wolf and mountain lion in our area. We have managed to live respectfully with all of them throughout our 16 years. In the process we have learned much about these animals and have had numerous encounters with them. We have been inches from bear and within 8 feet from a mountain lion and are still here to write about it. We have found that wildlife is generally respectful of our space and we in turn are respectful of theirs. Encounters are sometimes sudden and unexpected but by staying calm and not panicking we survive safely. We opened the back door once and standing there inches away, with only a thin pane of glass separating us, was a bear. By remaining calm and taking advantage of the bears surprise we closed the door, waited a few minutes and allowed the bear to depart. Most encounters have occurred just this suddenly and unexpectedly.

Understanding Wild Animal Behavior

We have found that wild animals are far more predictable and respectful than many people we know. Many of the stories we have been told and read are far different from what we have actually experienced. We are never careless around wild animals and do not encroach upon their territory. Most often wild animals go out of their way to avoid us. I hope no one interprets this to mean that wild animals are your friend because that is clearly not the case. They are wild animals and will do what wild animals do but if suddenly encountered and you keep your head and stay calm you will most likely walk away from the incident unscathed. Understanding what the animal is telling you by its behavior and body language is imperative to staying safe. A close encounter with a mountain lion where the cat was coiled on the ground, ears laid back and snarling was its way of telling us that we had invaded its safe zone. We slowly backed up and made no menacing gestures, remained calm (not always easy) and it finally bounded away much to our relief.

I hear people espousing how dangerous wild animals are and in fact they can be dangerous, but usually they only want to retreat to safety. Our numerous experiences reveal that if we are caught in a situation with a wild animal when we stay calm and be respectful of their space that most of the time the incident will favorably resolve itself. I would never suggest that when you encounter a wild animal that you try to get closer for a photo or better look. That is clearly inviting a potentially disastrous encounter.

Our personal experience is that when you encounter a potentially wild animal that you first and foremost remain calm and not make any aggressive or sudden moves that would threaten the animal. Quickly assess your situation and if possible slowly back away from the potential threat. If you choose to live in their habitat you will have encounters and it is how you handle those encounters that will largely determine the outcome.

Common Sense with Wild Animal Encounters

Not all people should be exposed to wild animals outside a zoo. Some seem to lack the common sense to handle the situation properly. A good example would be the time we were camping in Custer State Park where buffalo roam free. A totally wild buffalo was resting by the road when a car pulled up and out jumped two adults and two small children. The man directed the woman and children over to stand in front of the buffalo so he could take a photo. Then he directed the woman to put one child on the buffalo for a photo – which she refused to do. People with this approach to wild animals should not expose themselves to wild animals. They are tempting fate that potentially could end with disaster.

While bears are very curious, trying to get close to one in the wild would be a major mistake. I have witnessed them lift a large rock with one paw that I would have trouble moving with our tractor. They are tremendously strong and nothing to be trifled with. Equally careless would be jogging in a mountain lions habitat. They see something running and their prey drive kicks in and they pursue and attack. Even though we have mountain lions around we still see people jogging down our road with ear buds and music in their ears just inviting a potential attack.

When you live in predator habitat you need to constantly be aware of your surroundings and conduct yourself properly. When you do have an encounter, remain calm, check for an escape route and find a way to extricate yourself from the situation. If that is not possible look for a weapon to defend yourself. We once had to back away slowly from a persistent bear and circle about a mile around to make sure we stayed safe. If you have dogs it is best to have them well trained so they will not show aggressive behavior toward a wild animal. A small dog or any dog that barks incessantly or challenges another animal will certainly pose no threat to a bear or large cat but in fact may provoke the wild animal. Dogs running off leash need to come when called as they are no match for a bear or cat. Coyotes tend to lure them off into ambush. The most important part of an encounter is to stay calm and not panic. We have walked away from many encounters simply by following the above suggestions.

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