What to do when your kid meets a moose? The first rule of wildlife encounters is to stay calm. Photo: Doug Steinbock
By Kim Foley MacKinnon
Whether it’s a rabbit in a Rhode Island forest or a moose on a Maine
pond, at some point in your family’s outdoor adventuring, you’re bound
to meet up with a representative of the local wildlife. Before happening
upon an animal of any size, it’s best if your kids learn some basic
Nancy Ritger, who oversees naturalist programming
for the AMC huts and Cardigan Lodge, advises parents to remind kids what
a treat it is to cross paths with an animal, not something to fear.
“Observe it, watch it feed, do what it does, and count yourself lucky,”
Ritger says. “See how long you can watch without being noticed. Most
animals are well aware of you long before you are of them.”
all, she says, “Nobody should touch anything.” Ritger’s rule of
thumb—use common sense and keep your distance—is good advice wherever
you are, from a neighborhood park to a national forest to your own
backyard. Animals that become too accustomed to people may begin to seek
out humans, expecting food or attention. That isn’t safe for animals or
for people. Never, ever escalate an encounter by moving too close to a
wild animal or by restricting its free movement.
guidelines apply to all species, Ritger knows some animals are scarier
than others. To prepare kids for run-ins with bigger or toothier
critters, Ritger shares the following tips. In every case, the key is to
Observe snakes, like all
wild animals, from a distance. Don’t attempt to capture them. Although
poisonous varieties do exist in New England (see "The Endangered Timber Rattlesnake"),
you’re most likely to spot the common garter snake, the widest ranging
reptile in North America. In general, all snakes tend to be
inconspicuous, preferring to move away from humans and hide or to lie
still in the hopes of being overlooked. Although snakes are often seen
as threatening, Ritger says snakes only lash out if they feel cornered
or restrained. Give them plenty of space, and they’ll leave you alone.
a respectful distance and enjoy this iconic beast from afar. In almost
every instance, the moose will move off. Be especially cautious during
the breeding season in fall and the calving season in spring, when bulls
can be unpredictable and cows can be very protective of their calves.
Moose attacks are almost unheard of, Ritger says, but getting out of the
area fast is your best strategy if a moose is acting strangely. And
don’t forget to keep the family dog under control.
large, strong wild animals should be given ample space. While
aggressive and predatory behavior is very rare for black bears, which
are typically wary of people, a bear may not immediately recognize you
as a human and may be curious until it detects your scent. Don’t keep it
guessing! Make the animal aware of you by clapping, talking, or making
other sounds. Whatever you do, don’t approach bears and don’t intrude
between a female and her cubs. Bears habituated to people can be a
danger, Ritger says, but keeping your food secure and pets under control
will help maintain the proper distance.
The most important word
to teach your kids is respect. It’s a lesson that will last a few
lifetimes—both your kids’ and their wild counterparts’.