Born To Be Wild: Ways to Avoid a Survival Situation at the Zoo or National Park

Aka — Don’t be Stupid

On June 1st, Harumbe, an endangered Silverback Gorilla, was shot and killed after a three year old child climbed over a fence and several feet of brush then fell 15 feet into the habitat. Harumbe’s death was a tragedy, and, as with many other animal accidents, did not need to happen.

With vacation season here, we would like to remind our readers about safe conduct around wild animals in nature and in our beloved zoos. If not for yourself, or for the children who depend on us to teach them and keep them safe, then for the sake of the public safety officers, zookeepers, and park rangers who will have to save our sorry butts — please keep the following in mind:

1. Animals have feelings

In 2009, three teenagers at the San Francisco Zoo thought they were completely safe when they began harassing Tatiana the resident Siberian tigress. They pushed their luck too far and the tigress leapt out of her habitat, killed one of the mockers, and wounded the other two. Police officers and zoo employees were forced to shoot Tatiana, making the tigress pay the ultimate price for the carelessness of some irresponsible teenagers.

This horrible situation could have been avoided from the start. Investigators noted that Tatiana was likely agitated as a result of what the three teenagers were doing. Whether in a zoo or out in the wild, don’t assume that these are dumb soulless animals who don’t get royally pissed off from time to time. So when you find yourself tempted to mock a lion or other animal, make the right decision and follow the golden rule…Do unto others as you would have done to you… or you might end up having that lion chew on your guts.

2. You shall not pass

Believe it or not most zoo attacks are a result of tourists trespassing where they do not belong. Frequently in these cases someone has crossed a barrier into the pen of an animal. The reasons for this behavior are varied but the situation commonly goes like this:

Tourist goes to zoo, tourist sees animal, tourist climbs into pen, tourist gets attacked by aforementioned animal, animal is killed by zoo keepers, tourist goes home often with serious injuries (or dies).

These situations never end well for anyone. People do not just build walls, cages, moats, and fences for no reason. Come on people, let’s have some common sense here! For everyone’s sake, just admire these magnificent animals from where we are supposed to be — outside of the pen.

3. Worth a thousand words, not your life

In 1994, a 29 year old Australian tourist climbed a fence into the polar bear pen at the zoo in Anchorage, Alaska, to get a better picture and was attacked. The tourist survived, but her wounds included a broken leg and bites.

Photography is great, and wildlife photography is even greater, but risking your life by turning your back on a wild animal or climbing into its cage (also known as its territory)? Not so great. In 2015, the National Park Service released public service announcement warning visitors to Yellowstone National Park to stop taking selfies with bison.

Seriously, please don’t take a selfie with a wild animal.

4. Animals have personal space bubbles, too

In April 2009, a woman jumped over a fence and into the polar bear habitat at the Berlin Zoo. She did it to get a better picture of the magnificent bears. Once she was in the pen, the bears attacked her and she was lucky to escape alive.

Do you remember when you were in elementary school and they taught you about personal space bubbles; that magical energy field around every person that you weren’t supposed to cross without permission? Well, animals have them as well as humans.

Whether it be people reaching into cages to pet tigers or someone wanting to get a picture with the bison meandering across Yellowstone’s geyser plains, our inability to respect animals’ personal space is more common than anyone would like to admit. An issue that no one ever thinks about is that by getting close to animals, you are not just risking your own life but also that of the animal in question. Many of these animals have to be killed after attacking a human. Really worth a picture? I think not. Respect their space and maintain the minimum distance set forth by the National Park Service and stay out of zoo cages!

(I really can’t believe I just had to say that again)

5. Wild thing, I think I love you

In 2003, the body of Timothy Treadwell was found half eaten in the Katamai peninsula in Alaska. Timothy Treadwell was a self-proclaimed environmentalist who spent 13 summers living with Alaska’s Brown Bear population. During this time, he camped on game trails, spent time with and touched brown bears on a regular basis. The fact that Mr. Treadwell survived as long as he did is a miracle. Eventually, his recklessness was his undoing and he and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by a Brown Bear.

Mr. Treadwell’s downfall came as a result of his unwillingness to see these animals for what they are: wild. Similarly, nearly every zoological or national park incident occurs as a result of people not respecting the fact that these animals are not tame even though they may appear as such.

More animal attacks are caused by people being plain stupid than any other reason. Aggravating animals, entering their zoo pens or territory in the wild and getting too close for the animals’ comfort are all surefire ways to end up in the hospital or a grave and frequently result in the death of the animal as well. Come on people; stop being so darn selfish and think about the consequences of your actions. Accidents do happen from time to time but are much more rare than any other reason.

As time goes on, the world of the human and the world of the animal will continue to collide. Deforestation, forest fires, encroachment on their territories will continue to bring animals and humans into contact on a more regular basis.

In short, don’t be stupid.

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