Summertime is the time that hordes of tourists head to the national parks to enjoy wildlife. The key modifier in the term “wildlife’ is ‘wild’, meaning not tame. Mr. Badger does not want to be petted. Trust me. As you travel in late summer, here are some things you may see and some handy tips.
Big elk hanging out in Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk are generally fine to be near. Except in the rut. “Rut” is defined as ‘an annually recurrent state of sexual excitement in the male mammal’. Think of it like going to a bar at 2 a.m. on drink and drown night and getting between two drunk guys fighting over a bleached blonde in a tube top. You want to be nowhere near an elk during the rut as they will hurt you. These are big animals and they are not Bambi. The rut gets ramped up by August.
2. Grizzly bears.
Grizzly Bear in Yellowstone sitting on a log, contemplating dinner
Grizzly bears do not want to be bothered by you. They do not want to maul you. They will, however, take time out of their daily schedules to maul you if you fuck with them. The most dangerous place to be is between a Mama grizzly bear and her cubs. This is why the tourist died in Yellowstone this year – he inadvertently violated rule number 1: do not fuck with Mama Bear, even if by accident. Bear spray is a very good idea.
3. Polar Bears.
I have no pictures of polar bears taken by me. This is because I have never been close enough to a polar bear to take a picture. I do not want to be near a polar bear, and certainly not close enough to get a clear picture. The Coke ads aside, polar bears are hard-core predators. Polar bears will seek you out and try to eat you. It doesn’t help that their habitat is disappearing. Avoid the polar bears. Also, do not climb over the enclosure at the zoo to pet the polar bear. He doesn’t like you and he is not smiling at you.
4. Black bears.
Black bear Mom and cub minding their own business
Black bears are generally shy and will avoid you. They are not inherently deadly and they aren’t out to eat you. They can kill you if you mess with them. The same rule applies to all bears in the lower 48: do not mess with Mama and cubs. (See special rule for polar bears above which is basically stay the fuck away from them). I have seen morons in Great Smoky National Park throw things at Mom and cubs to get a better picture of the cubs. This is a spectacularly bad idea. Also, these people deserve to be mauled. Alas, they rarely are.
Where does a bison go? Answer: Anywhere it wants.
Bison are big. Really big. Bigger than the car waiting for it to cross the road. Do the math – that’s 2000 pounds plus. It would be a really good idea to not get in their way. Every year, someone in Yellowstone gets it because they think this is a big woolly cow in the field. Not so much. Bison do not want to be messed with. True story: a tourist in Yellowstone wanted to get a picture in front of a sleeping bison. It was laying down and she thought the picture would be better if the bison was standing. So she kicked it so it would stand up. The bison killed her. Bison 1, stupid tourist, 0. Bison also have a rut season and you would be well-advised to stay the hell out of their way then.
A water moccasin on the trail
Snakes do not want to be fucked with. Most people get bitten because they are not paying attention. Do not stomp through the underbrush in a pair of flip-flops. If you come upon a snake, do not fuck with it. This means in very basic terms, do not get a stick and poke at it. If you lived in Africa and did this, you would die quickly because their snakes are lightning fast and mean business. Pay attention to where you are and don’t mess with them. Unless you are a herpotologist, odds are you couldn’t quickly identify any poisonous snake other than a rattle snake.
I have never stuck around long enough to take good pictures of a badger. I don’t have a good enough lens to take them from far away either. Badgers are not friendly and they do not enjoy being disturbed. Think of them like you would your Great Uncle Elmer who hates everyone and would like to hit them with his cane. Badgers are small, but they have sharp teeth and they can haul ass when they want to. Badgers will stick up for themselves and size of the opponent has no bearing on what they will take on. If you happen to cross paths with a badger on your way through the back-country trail, get to steppin’. To get a sense of what I’m saying, check out the video of Mr. Badger versus the Bear.
8. Fire Ants.
I don’t have a picture of these either because every time I get close enough to a mound to take a photo, the bastards swarm out to sting me. Also, ant mounds are boring. Fire ants suck. They are aggressive and they will swarm out in defense of their colonies. For those north of the Mason/Dixon line, you have no idea how fortunate you are. Best line of defense when hiking is wear hiking boots and avoid their mounds. Wikipedia has some pretty pictures of what you will look like if you get swarmed.
This alligator is lazy, but he will bite morons
Alligators generally do not want to bother you. They are like middle-aged women in Vegas – they want to soak up the rays by the water during the day and at night, they’re out looking to get lucky. Alligators will not mess with you unless you mess with them or unless you are stupid enough to enter their world. If you’re on land, they are big enough to eat you if you venture too close, but they generally are only after your dog. Do not let your dog go to the water’s edge in alligator areas to play or drink. Don’t be stupid – do not swim where alligators are. Alligators will eat you if you are an idiot. The grim reaper report of fatal alligator attacks is here. Note how many deaths were attributed to people swimming where alligators lurk.
Other animals I would not want to fuck with: killer bees, sharks, wolverines, minks, seals, snapping turtles. If it falls in the animal kingdom and you are alone with it in nature, decide if you could take it bare-handed if you had to. If the answer is either ‘no’ or ‘not without a boat load of collateral damage’ then do not mess with it. Keep in mind that even the smallest animals can be quite vigorous in their defense of self. The Russians did not fare so well in their battle against kung-fu hamster. Size is not everything.
** All photos here were taken by Troy, many in the process of him trying to kill me.