Some ‘No’s are de rigueur. You would think that we would naturally recognize bad behaviors as being inappropriate, but we are constantly reminded that often we don’t know what is inappropriate – as illustrated in the numerous recent cases of death or stress of wildlife entailed by human tourist behaviors and referred below.
The important ‘No’ to master are explicitly:
If an animal wakes up, or stops feeding, or changes course after seeing you, this is the sign that you are too close. You are interfering with his activity and have become a predator threat. Stress levels have heightened (even if not visible to you), and this has a negative impact on their behavior (mating, foraging, resting, etc). Back off, or even leave the site so that the animal can resume what he was doing prior to your interruption and relax his vigilance.
Do not dismiss warning signs. Check with your guides what danger signs are before you enter their environment – it’s all for your survival.
A ‘Do Not Interfere Policy’ is critical. Interfering includes the spreading activity of rescuing.
If you are concerned about the safety of any of the animals that you are seeing don’t try and deal with it yourself. Did you see the story about the poor bison calf? [DC15] The observers thought he looked in trouble and decided to remove it from the environment and put it into the back of their truck to take to the rangers. It died.
So remember that you’re not an animal behaviorist or expert, as well as that your ideas of danger might be misconceptions [AUD], and that carrying on a wronged rescue can lead to the injury, stress and even death of the species you thought needed rescue.
Instead warn the authorities: tell the guide, or record the location and call the park authorities and alike. And if you have no reception, then wait, get out of that area, and do call once you regain phone or internet reception.
And if you do attempt a rescue or care before you can contact authorities check the right guidelines for the animal. For example, dragging a shark or dolphin back into the waters by its fins or tails may result in tail detachment and therefore death through your own well-meaning efforts. Some guidance is easily available on the internet.
Don’t chase an animal to get that last picture, or capture a forced moment.
You would think that it is common sense to not chase an animal, but it isn’t as we illustrated it in our story of ‘A Visit to a Rwandan Gorilla Family‘ [BS16(2)].
Always leave an “escape” route…
These are all variations on the same theme, yet they are important to list explicitly as often people do not recognize the similarities in these behaviors and their negative when viewing wildlife.
Too many people or jeeps crowd around an animal in a sanctuary or National Park or deliberately go too close to provoke a snarl or a charge [FJ16]. This disrupts the animal’s natural behavior, such as hunting, resting, feeding, and courtship. This causes tremendous stress and can lead to long-term physiological disruptions as well as avoidance [CR01].
In the case of large animals like elephants and tigers, regularly being subjected to crowding might make them more dangerous ([DS16], [BS16]). Take the responsibility to tell your guide if you feel you are putting the animals or yourselves in an uncomfortable position.
Always leave an “escape” route. For instance, dolphins, whales, and manatees should not be trapped between boats, or between boats and shore. Same applies to any wildlife.
Never encroach on nests or dens as certain species will abandon their young [DC15].
As for separating wildlife? Never come between a parent and its offspring. This is unacceptable behavior and can result in injury and death to both animals and people.
Ourselves we unintentionally came close once: We were not expecting bears in the area and were not paying attention to our environment out of tiredness [BC16]. There would have been no excuse for our mistake had something bad happened: while in the Wild always be aware is the golden rule…
Remember that you are in the habitat of the wildlife you’re enjoying. This means that that wildlife should always have the right of way.