Friday, January 8, 2010

Man and Beast.

On a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park I was privileged to see with my own eyes a level of stupidity that only the Darwin Awards committee could appreciate. A remarkable number of people treated the animals -- bears, elk, moose and the like -- as if they were tame, game-park creatures. The complete lack of respect for the wildness of the park's wildlife was shocking. The potential for carnage and mayhem seemed ever present. Maintaining a safe distance and quiet tones of voice while viewing wildlife appeared to be an utterly foreign concept to far too many individuals. Large scrums developed almost instantaneously roadside whenever an animal was spotted. Parents with small children ran up screaming wildly at the black bear with her cub. A black bear and her cub! No kidding. Not only does behavior like this shatter an otherwise moving experience for many, but it also places everyone in danger by potentially irritating mama bear. In addition, the cars and SUVs left idling, parked haphazardly along the road created traffic jams that rangers constantly tried to clear. (If they happened by.)

It was pure luck that no one was gored by a bison or turned into a tasty treat by a grizzly that week, and I have the impression that few people learned anything. But the animals in our National Parks are not tame. They may appear that way sometimes because they seem to tolerate the presence of humans to a degree. But ultimately they are wild. And dangerous! Respect that.

Man and beast will cross paths in the parks, that's just the way it is. However, simple things like staying in your car or keeping a safe buffer between you and the animal (and using your indoor voice!*) would go a long way to avoiding many tragic (and near tragic) encounters.

Below are a couple examples of near tragedies. (click on the links)

*A quick note about "indoor voices." When in the back country this is not the proper thing to do. If you want to avoid unexpected encounters, speak loudly and don't be afraid of making too much noise. Bears don't want to be bothered by you; if they hear you coming they will move on. If you surprise them, all bets are off!



  1. We see it all the time in the Shenandoah and Western Maryland and the family reaction is always the same, “What in the F are these people doing?” I did once witness a park ranger pass out a citation to a man who feed a yearling at a picnic table. What the ranger didn’t see was the same guy’s kids chasing, or trying to chase, the same yearling around the grove. Pissed me off. More rangers is fine but no matter how may we have they can’t be in all places at all times.

    The plain and simple fact is these people are ignorant of the wildlife around them. How two "city boys" like you and I can have enough common sense and these people have none escapes me. The solution is education. How you disseminate this education is beyond me but I think the money should be used to increase signage, more pointed hand out materials, and even an introductory film the sort you would see at most of the civil war battle fields or other historic locations. And how about a PSA or two? We have enough PSAs warning us about the dangers of smoking or talk on our cell while driving but nothing on preservation of our parks and wildlife. I remember two PSAs that had a huge impact on me when we were growing up. Remember the Indian crying over the litter on the highway? And who could forget Smokey the Bear. I don’t know if they influenced my knowledge of wildlife but the point is this kind of campaign could have a big impact on kids and adults today. Alas it all boils down to priorities. What is more important to today’s society, wildlife preservation or texting while driving?

    Short of that we could carry around clubs and just beat the crap out of these people. ;-)

  2. Yep, some people apparently just can't be reached. The signs exist, the videos, the ranger led programs... yet there are no shortages of videos like the one I linked to. It's crazy.

  3. Honestly Mike I think many times its best to just let Darwin do his thing. The problem is the animal is often euthanized if it's caught.

  4. Nice post Mike...I really like the second shot with the people- you really nailed it with the snow flakes!

    Given some more time in the park- this could easily develop into it's own essay....fairly serious statement in a wilderness that is ever shrinking- where man and beast often share the same domain!

    Cheers, Jeremy

  5. I guess I'll just have to go then! Thanks.