Camping is fun, but it’s important to remember that when we spend time in nature, we share our environment with wild animals – it is their home. All our actions have the ability to affect them, and we should act responsibly to make sure our impact is minimal.
It would be unrealistic to expect to camp without any interaction, and in fact, watching animals in their natural habitat is something we should cherish and not consciously avoid. But that is not to say we should be actively trying to encourage them. Unintentionally attracting wild animals to your site could have some unfortunate consequences. Wild animals that get too used to humans and start intentionally seeking out campsites for an easy meal may end being classed as a nuisance and then being put down by wildlife management. They could also suffer injuries and stress due to encounters, which may then result in damage to your equipment, or worse, injury to you or your animal companions.
To ensure there aren’t any incidents and that no one gets hurt, here are some tips to minimise the likelihood of close encounters with wild animals when camping.
Consider your campsite
Very often, the campsite that you select can make a huge difference. For instance, if you go for an official enclosed campsite, you’re less likely to come across wild animals. Though never take that for granted and follow our tips regardless.
If you wild camp, keep location in mind. For example, as alluring as lakes might seem, you may find you share your campsite with others including mosquitos, raccoons, bears, or other wild animals wanting a drink. Animals also like to hide in forested areas or those with tall grass, so bear that in mind when setting up and camp.
Keep Food Properly Stored
Have you ever followed the scent of great-tasting food, hoping to get at least one bite of the dish that was cooking there? Well, animals are just the same. If you leave your food lying around for the night, they may just come looking for an easy meal.
Get a good cooler that can seal the smells coming from the food – preferably one with a locking system. Adding some orange or lemon peels can also help to detract bears as citrus acts as a deterrent. As for food leftovers, load them into Ziploc bags and keep them away from your tent and out of reach of animals.
Store Trash Responsibly
Just like animals may be attracted to your food, they might also have the mindset to go through your trash. This is especially the case if it contains food or leftovers.
It is a good idea to put your trash in odour-killing bags and to hang them as high as possible – preferably around 8-10 feet away from the trunk as this will help to keep away raccoons, snakes, and rodents.
Change Your Clothes before Going to Sleep
How many times have you gone to a restaurant, only to realise that hours after coming home, you can still smell the food on you? Well, imagine how that smell would stick after you spent hours cooking at the grill and preparing camping goodies.
This is why it’s always a good idea to change your clothes before going to sleep – if you can smell your clothes, animals can too. Store your “cooking clothes” in an airtight bag so that the bears won’t confuse you with a juicy steak cocooned in your sleeping bag.
Get Some Basic Gear
Some types of gear may protect you from wild animal encounters, whereas others can keep them away from the campsite altogether. For example, since wild animals usually steer clear of well-lit areas, you might want to make sure you have lanterns and flashlights on you – this is good practice when camping anyway as you want to be able to see if you have to get up in the night.
Bear spray is also available for purchase in various stores, and it can come to your aid in a dangerous circumstance. The chances are that you won’t even need it, particularly if you avoid their approach with the tips above. However, it won’t hurt to have one, just in case.
Leash companion animals
As much as you may trust your animal companions, it’s not a good idea to leave them running around – particularly if the area is known for having bobcats, snakes, boars, and so on. They will seem like easy prey so keep them as close to you as possible and travel with them in mind.
If you do encounter a wild animal, your best move would be to take your companion animal and back away. In the case of bobcats and other predators, try to make yourself look as big as possible. If they see you as a threat rather than prey, they won’t attack you.
The Bottom Line
Camping can be a great experience as long as we respect our environment and the animals within it. If we store everything properly, leave things clean, and avoid purposefully attracting wild animals to our tents everyone should be able to live together harmlessly. And for a final thought, the same goes for when we leave – always take everything with you when you go and leave the area as you found it. Our rubbish is a danger to animals.
Blog by OneKind Planet volunteer writer, Ferenc Elekes and edited by Jane Warley.