ummm.. Don't you bloody dare!!!
Some years ago there was an advert on our TV's for a beer. They used a bear as the "character" and their tagline was "Follow that bear". At the time I never really thought about it (it's one I am sure people of my generation can still remember so as an ad campaign it was a pretty clever one). However, as someone who now wants to get out into National Parks where there is the chance of a bear encounter I've been doing a little bit of research. When I was out there on my whistle stop tour all our tour guide told us was to steer clear if you saw one in the distance but if it was close make yourself as tall as you can while slowly retreating backwards without looking at it in the eye. If that failed and it came towards you she told us to drop on the ground and 'play dead'. Some of this advice is (semi) correct but not all of it. As I want to take the kids I want to make sure I know as much as I can about how to keep them safe so have been looking for information on what to do should be encounter a bear - wolf, coyote, mountain lion and bison, also. I want to make sure when we get there every single one of us knows what we should do if we were to find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation with a wild animal - for their protection as much as for ours. We're not going to go 'off piste' and will stick to boardwalks and designated trails but that doesn't mean we won't encounter something - animals don't follow human signs and pathways. I remember when we got to the fountain pots in Yellowstone seeing a bear footprint in the mud immediately next to the boardwalk - the bear had gone over the wooden walkway before continuing on it's way. The size of it's footprint left us in no doubt whatsoever that it was a rather large creature; I'm mighty glad he/she wasn't there when we arrived and as great as it was to see the one I saw on the side of the road, that's about as close as I'd like to get to one. I have a good zoom on my camera and that is perfect for me to be able to view any wild animal. We'll get close enough when we go to the Bear and Wolf sanctuary - the kids can see one close up there. I've found some great information on a national park site that I shall download and print out for the kids to read on the flight over and I will test them on what they are to do several times while we're out and about (I'd rather be over-cautious and annoying to them than run the risk of them getting injured). I'll also get us all a can of bear spray which I am happy to find can be rented rather than bought outright. I'm sure it's not that much cheaper but at least I don't have to worry about finding somewhere to dispose of a can when we leave the park, and if we don't use it (I hope we never have to use it) the money can go back into the funds to keep the park up together. If you've had an experience with a bear, wolf or any other wild animal please feel free to share it with me.
Of course I would love to see a wolf in it's natural habitat (I've only ever seen them in wildlife parks) although again I would like to view it from a safe distance. One of my most treasured dreams is that I will hear a wolf howl in the wild before I depart this earth - I've heard plenty of coyotes (who can sound similar to an untrained ear) but as yet the wolf has eluded me, as had the moose. For 7 days on my whistle stop tour the guide told us we were in a great spot to see a moose, that the week before there had been loads around. She told us the best places to look for them every time we stopped and said those of us who did a raft float down the Snake River in Grand Teton would be guaranteed to see one (if you ever get the opportunity to do so I cannot recommend it to you highly enough). We didn't even see so much as the hind quarter of one as it disappeared behind a tree - I'm sure they don't really exist. I took a wander down to the river on my own - it wasn't until after I realised I was alone and quite a long way from everyone else that a slight amount of fear crept into my brain - but even sitting there on the riverbank there was not even a glimpse of one (yet we were in the perfect area to see them). Sitting there it literally was just me and my thoughts to keep me company - one of those very rare moments when you take a deep breath and realise just how amazing this thing we call life truly is).
The other thing I need to warn them about is the Rattlesnakes - oh and spiders and scorpions - eek, do I really want to visit? That's a rhetorical question because of course I do. The chances of being killed by a bear are 1 in 2 million (I don't intend on being that one).
I've sorted safety sheets for the kids (and us adults) on what to do / not to do if we encounter any kind of wild animal. How to deal with an attack (god forbid that was to happen). I can only make them aware of how to behave/react to each situation and unless it's actually happening nobody can say how they will deal with things but the more aware I can make them the better chance we have if something was to happen.