“Hey! There’s a moose and her calf over there!” a visitor to Grand Teton National Park shouted at us as we started a hike on a trail we’d taken many times before.
As the visitor and his wife hurried across the sagebrush in the direction of the mother and young, we continued on the trail. One of the most dangerous animals in the Park, a moose can be unpredictable and treacherous, especially a cow with a calf. We wondered if these same people would rush to encounter a rattlesnake. Most likely, they would flee.
When encountering a rattlesnake, a person would be well advised to stand still since snakes key in on movement. Rattlesnakes are not inclined to attack, but may slither in the direction of the person in an effort to escape to a known retreat. Since the fastest snakes in the world rarely exceed seven miles per hour, anyone can outrun it. Watching where you put your hands and feet can prevent a strike from a snake attempting to defend itself.
When encountering a moose, a person would do well to avoid approaching it and, instead, walk in the other direction, maintaining a good distance from the animal and perhaps observing it from afar.
Occasionally, however, we encounter animals on or adjacent to the trail we hike. Last summer, while hiking at Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton National Park, we observed a cow moose and her calf across the road where our trail led. We sat on a log at a distance from her, waiting for her to finish browsing and move on. When drivers finally noticed her, cars screeched to a halt and people hurried toward her, cameras in hand. Fortunately, this time, no one was hurt.
Earlier this summer, while sitting on a bridge at Taggart Lake in the Tetons, I thought I saw a marmot emerging from behind a large nearby boulder. The marmot was actually a bear’s head, and as it continued toward us, we jumped up, pulled our bear spray, picked up our backpacks, and walked off the bridge.
To our surprise, the bear followed us across the bridge with a yearling cub close behind her. Not wanting to antagonize her or cause her concern, we continued up the trail without much opportunity to observe her. Unlike a rattlesnake, a bear can outrun a person and can attack for more reasons than merely defense or obtaining food.
Despite warning signs, many tourists flock toward large, charismatic animals, often animated in cartoons as cute and cuddly. Because they’re in a “Park,” many visitors think they are safe. But when a bear feels crowded or threatened, it can rip flesh with its claws and gouge skin and bones with its teeth. A temperamental moose can run down and stomp a person to death. A bison can hook a child and fling it over its neck.
And that’s what happened to a child a few years ago when parents disregarded warning signs and encouraged the youngster to stand close to a bison for the best photo op. Feeling crowded, the bison lowered her head and threw the child a distance away.
Most visitors, however, recognize the dangers and heed warning signs. Recently, near the end of a loop trail in the Park, we spotted a family of three sitting on rocks at the edge of the trail. As we came near, we saw what drew their attention. A young cow moose browsed contentedly adjacent to the trail just a short distance ahead.
“We’ve been waiting for her to move on,” said the father when he noticed us. “When we first saw her, she was standing right on the trail.”
This family had done the right thing by sitting tight and not passing close to the moose. Logs and vegetation prevented them from skirting far enough around her to be out of the danger zone. Since the moose appeared to be in no hurry, we all watched her for some time.
“How can we get around her?” the father asked. Our cars were in sight, and he appeared anxious to leave. “Do you think we can climb over those logs and get far enough away from her?”
Both Chuck and I pulled our bear spray. “This works on moose as well as bears,” we said. Although the moose appeared to have no interest other than the tree she nibbled, we didn’t want to take any chances.
With Chuck in the lead, the family in the middle, and me at the end, we traipsed through the brush and over logs as far away from the trail as we could get, but still not as far as we would have liked. Once abreast of her, we watched as she halted her feeding and stared at us. How I would have liked to take a picture, but, as with the bear encounter earlier, we had no intention of antagonizing her or giving her reason to doubt our intentions.
Snakes repulse many people. Large hairy mammals attract many. Either can be fascinating to watch. And either can be dangerous depending upon circumstances. Wildlife needs space, and as more people take to the outdoors to locate and observe it, more consideration must be given to the needs and welfare of fauna that’s merely trying to survive.
Some Other Teton Animals: