At some point in your camping adventures, you will be face to face with some kind of wildlife. Dangerous encounters are very rare but it is a good idea to be prepared. Don't let fear stop you from fully enjoying nature. Wildlife safety while camping is all about being aware of your surroundings and knowing what to do in the event of an encounter. Before you arrive at your campground make yourself familiar with the animals that live in the area and know what to do ahead of time.
Below is a list of animals that you may encounter in different parts of the country. As with anything else, lack of knowledge can make us much more fearful of situations than is necessary. Use this guide as a starting point for wildlife safety while camping.
Some animals may look safe to approach and you might even be tempted to try to pet or get close to them but always remember that they are wild animals and are unpredictable. Never approach any animal even if it looks sick or injured. It is best to alert a park ranger if you see an animal in distress. You could make the situation worse by trying to intervene without the proper training.
Wildlife Safety While Camping Rule #1
Keep it Clean
One of the most important things you can do to avoid wildlife encounters is to keep your campsite clean. Don't be careless with food or trash. Keep all food and food related items inside your RV or car including coolers that don't lock. Don't store your trash outside. Put it in wildlife resistant trash cans, dumpster or store inside.
Don't ever feed wildlife for any reason including the cute squirrels. If animals become accustomed to being fed or easily obtaining food, they will lose their natural fear of humans and often become aggressive.
Also, don't leave your pets unattended outside and always keep them on a leash. A wild animal can come out of nowhere but if your pet is on a leash near you the chances of an attack is very small.
Wildlife You Might Meet
- Alligator attacks are very rare and in most cases not deadly.
- Alligators prefer to avoid people but will aggressively defend a nest.
- If you see an alligator, keep your distance. They can move very fast.
- If you are in a boat, kayak, canoe etc, do not block an alligator's access to land.
- Never corner an alligator- this will make it act defensively.
- Never feed an alligator- alligators become conditioned to humans quickly when being fed and they lose their of us and become dangerous.
The best way to protect yourself is to not swim in waters known to inhabit alligators at dusk, dawn or nighttime. This is when they most actively feed. When you are in any body of water where there could be a possibility of alligators, make sure you have a clear view of your surrounding area and there are no reeds or grass growing nearby that can give an alligator a place to hide.
If on the rare chance you are attacked:
- Run- if you are on land or can get to land, run as fast as you can. They are not meant to run on land.
- Fight-put up as much of a fight as you can. Alligators normally bite and release then bite again. Use that release time and poke it in the eyes or any other soft tissue you can get ahold of.
- Make lots of noise- scream, yell and be as loud as possible.
Mountain Lions and Coyotes
If you encounter a mountain lion or coyote:
- Stop- don't run.
- Talk loudly in a low voice.
- Keep eye contact and back away slowly.
- Make yourself as large as you can- raise your arms, hold your jacket or backpack over your head.
- Pick up pets or small children
Normally these animals are more afraid of you and will go in the other direction but if it becomes aggressive throw things at it.
If attacked (very rare):
- Don't run- this will engage it's chase instinct.
- Fight back using anything around you.
- Protect your head and neck.
The snakes to be concerned about are rattlesnakes, cotton mouths and copperheads.
There are 11 North America Rattlers- find out if any are home to the area you will be traveling to here.
Cottonmouth snake also known as a water moccasin, is North America's only venomous water snake. It has a distinctive blocky, triangular head and a thick body. They have a a dangerous bite but rarely bite humans and only attack when threatened. They are semiaquatic, which means they are happy swimming in water and basking on land in the southeastern United States.
Copperhead snakes are the most seen North American venomous snakes. They're also the most likely to bite, but their venom is relatively mild, and their bites are rarely fatal for humans.
Snakes are not confrontational creatures. They do not want to interact with you anymore than you want to get up close and personal with them. The can sense our vibrations from walking and look for a place to hide often behind rocks, logs or in thick brush. If you find yourself very close to a snake, jump away and keep moving back. A snake can only jump the length of it's body- usually no more than 3 feet.
How to Avoid a Snake Encounter:
- Stay on the trail and only walk where you can see where you are stepping.
- Avoid stepping in tall grass, weeds and brush.
- Don't step directly in front of or behind logs and rocks. Step on top and jump away.
Snake bites are pretty uncommon and deaths are even more rare. Many snake bites are actually dry bites which means no venom is released. If you are bitten don't panic.
- See immediate medical help.
- Remain calm to slow the spread of the venom.
- Call 911 and wait calmly for transport or if that is not an option walk out at a relaxed pace breathing deeply.
- DO NOT apply a tourniquet.
- Don't try to cut the wound or remove venom.
- Don't drink caffeine or alcohol.
- Take a picture of the snake or try to remember what it looks like which will help with treatment but don't try to catch it.
Spiders and Scorpions
There are only 2 species of spiders in North America that can cause serious injury:
Black Widow Spiders- here is why you don't need to worry about them (I know I feel MUCH better!)
Brown Recluse Spiders- live in a region comprising Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama and parts of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. While these spiders are common in these areas, bites are not common.
Brown recluses often hide in dark, secluded places such as under trash cans, tires, etc. It is primarily nocturnal and lays its eggs from May to July. Brown recluse spiders have a scary reputation but in reality, only 10 percent of recluse bites require medical attention. The rest look like little pimples or mosquito bites or something else that doesn't merit a trip to the emergency room, and they heal by themselves.
How to Avoid Brown Recluse Spiders:
- Shake out clothes and shoes before you put them on.
- Wear gloves when working with wood, brush, leaves etc.
- Don't reach into any dark area without gloves.
If you are bitten:
If you suspect your small child was bitten by a brown recluse, see your doctor right away. Their bodies can’t ward off the dangerous effects of the spider’s venom.
For adults, most brown recluse spider bites can be treated at home. About 10% will cause ulcers or blisters that damage your skin so badly that you need a doctor’s care. See your doctor right away if you develop an ulcer or blister with a dark (blue, purple or black) center, if you are in extreme pain, have trouble breathing or get an infection at the site of the bite.
Hobo Spiders- the hobo spider was once thought to be toxic but it"s venom is now considered non-toxic and their bites non-necrotizing (non-tissue destroying). Hobo spider bites are rare and tend to be mistaken for bites from other toxic species, such as brown recluse spiders.
Scorpions-The Arizona bark scorpion is the only deadly scorpion present in the U.S. It can be found in the Southwestern U.S. especially widespread in most parts of Arizona. Small populations of this scorpion have also been observed in southeastern California and southern Utah. Here is some interesting information including how to prevent stings and what to do if you get stung.
Bears- Black and Grizzly
If you see a bear and it doesn't see you, quickly and quietly walk away. Don't run!
If the bear sees you:
- Stay calm and avoid sudden movements.
- Talk in a normal voice and move your arms slowly so it knows you are human.
If a bear charges you:
- Stand your ground until it stops then back away. Bears normally charge as a bluff.
- Don't run or try to climb a tree. They will be provoked to chase you.
- Play dead. Grizzlies only attach if they feel threatened. If you present no threat, they will likely move on.
- Lie face down on the ground covering the back of your neck.
- Don't move and stay quiet.
- Keep your legs apart and leave your backpack on.
- Stay quiet and still for a while after the bear retreats. They often watch and will return if they see movement.
- Be loud,waive your arms and stand your ground.
- Fight back using anything you have including bear spray if you have it.
I have to admit, doing the research for this page has helped ease most of my fears about being out in nature. A dangerous encounter really is very rare no matter what the news wants us to think. Be aware of your surroundings and go out and enjoy nature!