For a growing group of travelers, observing and photographing wildlife in its natural habitat is one of the highlights of their vacation. The experience could be as diverse as going on a safari in Africa, a diving holiday in Egypt, an Arctic expedition trip to watch polar bears, or visiting the beautiful National Parks of North America.
Unfortunately, every year people are wounded or even killed by wildlife. And because of human interaction and negligence, wildlife is also being killed in alarming numbers. Thankfully, these situations are easily preventable.
First, the good news. Unlike Hollywood movies might suggest, there are not many animals that are naturally aggressive towards humans. Observing wildlife can be a safe activity if done well. However, even the smaller animals, can be potentially dangerous to humans. Stressed or threatened animals can be unpredictable, and hostile.
Here are some ways to observe wildlife safely.
1. Do not touch
This is probably the most obvious one, but in my travel experiences I have observed people trying to touch wildlife too many times; turtles during a dive, or a racoon in a National Park. It should be simple; wild animals are not pets, so keep a respectable distance. Stressed animals might attack you, and even a bite or scratches from small one could give you a nasty infection.
2. Do not feed either
Who isn’t inclined to throw a peanut to a sweet looking squirrel? However, this is not a healthy behavior. The animal can get too familiar with humans and they will relate us to food. Every year, in North America bears need to be killed for safety reasons, that happens because they become too familiar with humans and food.
3. Be silent
Noises might stress animal, so try to be quiet, no matter how excited you are while observing them. Please, also don’t honk your car if an animal is crossing the road!
4. Watch your steps and wear appropriate footwear
During a jungle walk in Costa Rica, my son warned me that I was almost standing on a snake. Fortunately, I love snakes, and most of them are harmless. But it reminded me of the importance of watching your steps, and not be distracted while taking pictures. For these type of nature walks, it is highly recommended to wear proper walking boots and pants not shorts, as extra protection for potential bites.
5. Invest in a zoom lens
The main reason why travelers often come way to close to a wild animal, is usually to take the best picture. If you are interested in wildlife photography, I highly recommend investing in a good zoom lens, so you can take the best pictures from a safe distance.
6. Protect against the biggest killers
As the last tip, protect yourself well against the animal that causes the most deaths amongst humans on the globe. No, it isn’t sharks, lions, snakes, alligators or polar bears, but the mosquito. Mosquitos can spread several diseases such as Malaria, Dengue, The Zika virus, among others. So please use mosquito repellents and dress appropriately to protect you against these small annoying killers.
Hans Lagerweij is Trustee of the Safer Tourism Foundation and CEO & President of Victory Cruise Lines, and a passionate traveler himself. He has travelled to over 70 countries in his life, including expeditions to the Galapagos, Amazon, Antarctica, Svalbard/Spitsbergen and to the 90° North Pole.
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