5 Simple Tips to Handle a Wild Animal Encounter on Vacation

If you come face-to-face with a bear, mountain lion or coyote, do your best to look imposing.

Whether it’s a beach getaway or a camping trip, animal encounters — some potentially dangerous — can happen on any vacation. San Francisco-based writer (and New York Times Travel section contributor) Rachel Levin has plenty of tips to help in her new, lighthearted book “Look Big: And Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds.” The book offers advice from wildlife biologists and researchers on how to handle interactions with 50 animals, including bears and bison to mountain lions and moose. Here are a few of them.

According to the experts Ms. Levin interviewed, the secret to surviving a dangerous animal encounter, like one with a shark, bear or rattlesnake, is to not panic. “Easier said than done, and sounds obvious, but seriously, try and keep your cool,” Ms. Levin said. “The bad stuff happens when you don’t.”

The best thing to do during such an encounter is to remove yourself slowly from the scene if you can. Which means: if you see a great white in the water, quietly slip out and don’t start splashing. If you see or hear a rattlesnake coiled up, give it a wide berth. If it bites, stay still and call poison control immediately — freaking out will only make the situation worse.

If you come face-to-face with a bear, mountain lion or coyote, do your best to look imposing. Stand tall, huddle together, open your coats, and raise your backpack overhead. If it’s a mountain lion for example, look it in the eye and show it who’s the boss (in theory, at least). Start yelling and screaming, throwing stuff or whatever else you can to scare it off. Don’t lie down and play dead (this is also true for bears and other predators): if the animal is hungry and views you as docile prey, you’ll be dinner.

Running from most animals — including coyotes, feral dogs and bears — is a futile exercise, Ms. Levin said. They’re just faster than you are, and won’t tire out before you do. Plus, running can encourage these animals to chase you.

Alligators may be the only predators you have a shot at beating in a race, although they rarely pursue prey on land. (But watch out if you’re in the water: They ambush. If one latches on you, put up a fight and it might decide to ditch you, Ms. Levin’s experts said.)If you come upon a predator, back away slowly, turned sideways, avoiding eye contact. “The goal is to appear as unthreatening as you know you are,” Ms. Levin said.

This should be obvious, but getting near a wild animal in the name of an Instagram-worthy selfie is setting yourself up for trouble. Earlier this year, a tourist in India was mauled to death when he tried to take a selfie with a wounded bear, and in recent years, several tourists in Yellowstone who got too close to bison to snap a selfie were gored or injured by the 1,000- to 2,000-pound animals.

Or the sea gulls or the coyotes or any animal, really, other than your pets. If you do, they may not leave you alone in the hopes of getting more food. Seagulls, for one, are bold birds and will swipe your sandwich or a slice of pizza right out of your hand. And, in some destinations, feeding these birds may mean a hefty fine ($500 in Ocean City, N.J., for example).

Worse, the more you feed wild animals, the more they grow accustomed to humans, and stick around people instead of foraging for their own food — which leads to people treating them like pests and trying to poison, trap, or kill them. In general, it’s better if wild animals retain a healthy fear of (and distance from) humans in densely populated places.

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