When I was a kid I LOVED Yogi Bear and his side-kick Boo-Boo. Every chance we could, my brother and I tuned in to their antics, and their ongoing attempts to outsmart Ranger Smith in Jellystone Park. Now that I’m an adult, I pal around with Smokey Bear for several months of the year, traveling throughout Colorado promoting all the fun ways to get fit in the great outdoors.
But neither of my previous bear experiences prepared me for the personal encounter I had last week with a live black bear who was hanging out a mere ten feet from my back door early one evening. I’m not sure who was more surprised – me or the bear – when we found ourselves suddenly face to face. In that instant my life flashed before my eyes and I tried frantically to remember all the tips my Forest Service friends have taught me about what to do in wildlife encounters. I backed ever so slowly inside and methodically closed and locked the door.
And then, of course, I beganscreaming hysterically, “OHMYGOSH, OHMYGOSH, OHMYGOSH…….THERE’S A BEAR IN THE BACK YARD!!!” Loud enough that they could probably hear me in Poughkeepsie.
But this was only the latest brush in a continuing succession of wildlife encounters for me throughout the summer – in addition to the skunk, the two snakes, the mice, the raccoon, the deer herds, the entire family of coyotes that have been sightseeing around my house and howling in the middle of the night, and the mountain lion that has been taking her afternoon naps in my next door neighbor’s back yard.
Yep, wildlife sightings are not at all unusual where I live, in the foothills west of Denver. And since virtually every trip out my front or back door constitutes a walk on the wild side, I’ve made it my business to know what to do when I find myself face to face with these furry (and scaly) friends. And the first piece of advice is to….ahem…..stay calm……
- Back slowly away. Don’t run away – in most cases you can’t outrun these animals.
- Make yourself appear larger than you are. Wave your arms or your jacket.
- Use noisemakers such as whistles or air horns to frighten the animal.
- If the animal is aggressive, throw stones or branches at it.
- If you’re bitten by a venomous snake, try to immobilize the area of the bite (unless you’re alone and need to move to seek treatment). Keep the area of the snake bite lower than the heart. Do not cut open the wound or try to suck out the venom and do not use a tourniquet.
These tips are applicable whether you’re in your back yard or out on a trail and I keep them in the front of my mind while enjoying nature walks and hikes. The trails are wonderful this time of year; the air is crisp and fragrant and hiking is healthy exercise for both the mind and body. I want to let those of you in Colorado know about a nature walk on Saturday, October 6 at the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. Walk on the Wild Side is a fundraiser supporting the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory’s environmental education programs and will include a variety of walking venues including a 10K, 5K, and 1K as well as fun activities and healthy snacks along the way. For more information or to register for the event, log on to http://walk.birdday.org/rmbo.