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Taking bears and other wildlife into account (tips)

During our roadtrip by America en Canada we often had the chance (and still do) to come into contact with bears and other wildlife. That can be dangerous for humans and animals. As a tourist you will have to take this chance into account, adjust your behavior accordingly and know what to do if an animal comes near you. In this article I will tell you about this and give examples of what not to do!

Our journey through the United States and Canada

This article is part of a large one-year tour the United States en Canada, with a Dutch 4×4 camper that we shipped ourselves… It is a bucket list worthy and an once in a lifetime experience that will never be forgotten.

We wrote almost 100 articles about this ultimate tour. Visit our North America page for more information.

How do you take wildlife into account?

In The Netherlands we only know the signs along the road that warn us for crossing wildlife. You see them here, of course, and a lot, but there are other things that people do to take wildlife into account.

Also read: Wildlife spotting | 10 Wildlife experiences for your bucket list!


In National parks it is often indicated by means of maps and signs that you are not allowed to feed animals and that you must keep your distance. You are also not allowed to feed small animals. Unfortunately, we have seen that people like to feed birds or squirrels and that the animals get very close to people, with the chance that they will bite you and transmit diseases.

There are also signs to indicate that bears are nearby. Below you can see what to do if you encounter a bear in the wild. In any case, it does not state that you have to take pictures from two meters away…

Many parks also advise that if you spot a wild animal from your car, you should stay in your car. To protect yourself and the animal.

Don't pet the fluffy cows

Bears are unpredictable and dangerous, many people know that. But bison can also be very dangerous. They are extremely strong and very territorial. They even regularly pound holes and dents in cars that get too close.

Many bison have been encountered in Yellowstone National Park and although they usually look very relaxed (like the bison walking past our RV in Yellowstone below), they can be really explosive and aggressive towards people.

So they are animals to absolutely take into account. The NPS in America regularly posts updates online with the tagline 'Don't pet the fluffy cows'. They really don't do this for nothing, it still goes wrong far too often with ignorant tourists who come too close.

Don't pet the fluffy cows - Image from NPS on Instagram
Don't pet the fluffy cows – Image from the NPS on Instagram

Keep distance

Parks Canada and the National Park Service in America use the following or similar images to illustrate that people should keep 30 meters (about three bus lengths) away from animals such as moose and sheep. For bears, wolves and lions (mountain lions) it is advised to keep 100 meters away.

Advice to keep distance from wild animals
Advice to keep distance from wild animals

Bear locks and safes

During our trip we saw bear locks for the first time in the woods of Florida and we've seen no different since. All trash cans and containers are secured with this, to prevent bears from opening them. Especially on campsites you are asked to put away garbage and food. If you don't have a car or camper, here are so-called bear safes in front of.

Also read: Alligators and bears in Florida | Roadtrip USA (11)

They are smart animals and they have great strength. Without these locks, bears will forage for food from humans and get closer and closer. Bears will continue to do that, because they learn quickly. A fed bear is a dead bear, they say here. It is common for a bear to be euthanized because it has become a danger to humans.

bear spray

If you are in an area where many bears live, it is wise not to walk alone. Being alert and making noise during your walk is important. A bear can then notice you from a distance and often the bear would choose to stay away from you.

In the event that you encounter a bear, there are a number of things you can do. On the warning sign above (under the heading warnings), you can see what you can do best in different cases. Running away is not one of them. wearing bear spray can help you in case of a bear attack. It is a kind of pepper spray that creates a large gas cloud so that you can escape from the bear.

Bear spray | We have these in our pocket during walks
Bear spray | We have these in our pocket during walks

Fines up to $25.000

What many people also don't know is that there are very high fines be handed out for disturbing wildlife. In Canada fines can be up to $25.000 and in the United States it is $20.000. Taking a photo of a bear or bison up close can therefore be very expensive.

Taking pictures remotely

As advised, keep a safe distance. If you want to take a nice picture of one of these beautiful animals for your social media pages, consider buying a camera that can get close to the 'action'. A good camera with a zoom lens does wonders. This also prevents you from risking your life. So worth every euro.

Elk in a National Park - spotted from a safe distance, photo taken with a zoom lens.
Elk in a National Park – spotted from a safe distance, photographed with a zoom lens.

Also read: What is the best camera for a world tour? And why?

I wrote about countless reasons before why you don't take pictures with your smartphone during your (world) trip, but this reason (security) can be added as far as I'm concerned.

How not to do it

It's not a zoo

Many people come to the national parks to see wildlife. That's okay, but at some distance. However, many people don't seem to realize that these are wild animals, not animals on the petting zoo. There are no fences and they are real wild animals….

In Jasper National Park, we saw many cars parked along the road. There had to be something to see. From the car, we saw many people with cameras taking pictures of a bear a few meters away! We were very surprised.

Malou stayed in the car and got angry about it, because she can't understand that people don't take the animal into account. She actually wanted to leave quickly….

At some distance, I went to take pictures with my zoom lens. My heart raced when I saw the bear coming towards me. Below you can see the moment the bear started to walk. The bottom photo was my last photo, because I had to leave immediately.

Wounded and killed

After all, it's all fun and good until the bear or other wildlife attacks and kills someone (something we've read A LOT about in the US and Canada over the past few months). It's more common than you might initially think. The internet is full of news articles and videos.

Almost weekly we read online about these kinds of people, people who get hurt. Usually the bear or bison or whatever has to be killed after that because it might hurt more people. You are therefore not only endangering yourself, but also innocent wildlife. Please do not go near wildlife. All those signs and warnings are there for a reason!

Also read: Do not swim with dolphins and do not take elephant rides


It takes a lot from people to take wildlife into account; read signs, follow directions, prepare and put your own wishes aside (no selfie with a bison on your Insta). But if everyone uses their common sense, we can live happily together and enjoy the beauty of the animals as humans.

Our advice for camper rental in Canada
Camper trips through Canada from Travelhome

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Chris Thomassen

Owner of Wereldreizigers.nl † Discover the world!
- Full-time blogging world traveler.
- Writes about travel, photography, sustainability and gadgets.
- Likes to discover extreme and unknown places.

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