I hope I’ve prompted at least a few of our readers to hum the ‘Play School’ theme song to themselves. Ha!
We’ve seen quite a few bears and moose now, plus assorted other critters, and I want to write down what we’ve learnt before I forget what we’ve been advised to do when we encounter something furry and potentially dangerous.
The rangers at Exit Glacier and Denali all spent a lot of time educating campers about the safest ways to interact with wildlife. Bears tend to want food, toiletries and other highly perfumed stuff and are usually not aggressive towards people, unless you accidentally get between a mother bear and her cub, or you’re near a bear’s kill site. In both cases the best thing to do is get away, fast. Generally it’s a good idea to keep a distance of a few hundred metres between oneself and a bear – we’ve only seen them from the safety of our car or a bus, thankfully. We have bear spray that we take when we go walking, and keep at the door of our tent in case one decides to pay us a nocturnal visit. We keep all our food, toiletries and rubbish in the car overnight when we camp, or in the food lockers provided at some campgrounds. When walking, it’s best to make some noise so that any nearby bears know you’re around and don’t get a surprise if you get to close to them. A few people in Denali had ‘bear bells’ attached to their packs – very annoying and ineffective anyway. At best the bears ignore the bells, and in some places they have learnt to regard them as dinner bells.
So – making noise, standing up tall and looking big, talking in a loud voice are all good tactics to use if a bear is looking interested in you. If one decides to get too close, either lie down and ‘play dead’, or use bear spray if you’re carrying it and the bear is within 10 metres.
Ranger Kara at Wonder Lake told us a funny story about a woman who ‘played dead’ when a bear was about 100 metres away from her. The bear wandered up her, lay down beside her and fell asleep!
Moose seem to be more scary to me. They can charge without any provocation, on those skinny spindly legs with that huge body on top. The general advice is to keep a distance of at least 25 metres, and if one does charge or even just notices you, hide behind a tree or other large solid object, or run away in a zig-zag kind of pattern. Moose can’t change direction quickly.
No other big, scary, furry creatures to worry about …. so far. We just get excited when we see any wildlife – eagles, falcons, ptarmigans, elk, caribou, fox, gopher, bears, moose and even squirrels. A woman on the Inside Passage ferry trip told me that her first meal at her in-laws place in Arkansas was Squirrel & Dumplings, so now I look at squirrels a bit differently than I used to. I think it must have been a different type of squirrel though. The ones we have seen look tiny!