Animal Safety


This post is about you being safe from animals.  It seems that there are regular reports of people doing crazy things around wild animals.  Whether it is putting a bison calf into the back seat of a car at Yellowstone National Park or arguing with a bear that is exploring a kayak, people continue to endanger themselves and others while treating wild animals as pets.

Advice and the Big Question

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt
Photo by Erik van Leeuwen [GFDL]

The Park Service offers this advice: “Do not approach wildlife, no matter how tame or calm they appear. Always obey instructions from park staff on scene. You must stay at least 100 yards (91 m) away from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards (23 m) away from all other large animals – bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, and coyotes.” Now, suppose you were 25 yards away when an animal decided to run after you.

How long before you became lunch – or worse?  


Let’s make two assumptions to make this calculation easier:

  1. you are a world class sprinter and can run at 28 miles per hour (like Usain Bolt in a 100-meter sprint)
  2. you and the animal are both running at top speed and 25 yards apart


Catch Time

Catch Time

Some Reality

cougarSuppose a mountain lion was already at full speed when you noticed it.  You would be lunch before you could turn around and start running.  That’s kind of an unlikely scenario – you probably wouldn’t notice a mountain lion until it was on top of you.

An antelope, deer or elk is not likely to chase you, unless you happened upon a doe with a fawn and had them trapped where there was no way out except over you.  They won’t make lunch of you, but you could get seriously damaged in the encounter.

The most common hazardous encounters seem to be with bison at Yellowstone National Park.  The typical scenario is that a person sees a seemingly docile bison standing or lying near a road.  The person parks their car and walks up to get a close-up photo, sometimes a selfie.  If that animal decides to chase them, they have only a few seconds to get to safety, like the relative safety of their car.  Most people couldn’t climb a tree fast enough even if they were standing right next to a suitable one.  Whatever head start you may have had will quickly disappear if you turn your back on the animal to take a selfie or if you ignore the 25 yard rule.

You aren’t Usain Bolt!

The Bottom Line

The 25 to 100 yard idea for these animals is that, hopefully, they won’t feel the need to charge you if you stay that far away.  Still, they are very unpredictable especially around their young or if others have been harassing them before you arrived.  So:

  • pay attention to the Park Service advice,
  • back off further if you perceive any reason the animal might be unhappy,
  • don’t start a running race – back off slowly,
  • use a telephoto lens on your camera
  • if you are in a car, stay there, especially around bison and bears.

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