Canada

OBSERVING WILDLIFE: A GENTLE ADVENTURE

Fall is here and it is my favourite season to go for a hike. You get to see the beautiful changing colours of the trees and it is also the opportunity to see wildlife one last time before some hibernate for the winter or fly thousands of kilometers away to warmer climates. I always get a rush of excitement when I am able to spot a moose, a blue jay or a chipmunk and I always wonder how to get closer or how to take a good picture to take home with me. Do you as well? In this article, you’ll find key interaction guidelines to appreciate wildlife and respect it.

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YOUR NEW MOTTO: “KEEP YOUR DISTANCES”

I live in Ontario and my favourite place to see wildlife are the provincial parks. There are so many species to observe if you know where to look and if know how to be patient. The key element to remember when encountering wildlife is to give them space. Afterall, we are entering their home and as guests/intruders, it is our responsibility to keep it safe and maintain the stress level to a minimum. Keeping your distances is also important for your own safety, because you never know when an angry mama grouse is going to chase you to protect its offspring. It happened to me once and it is not an experience I recommend.

Keeping your distances also means not feeding the wildlife. Giving food to wildlife means that, over time, they will learn to “trust” human and turn off their internal alert system. It can be dangerous for them, for example around cars. I traveled to Bic Park in Quebec last year and a doe was walking among the crowd, completely unafraid of the group of humans around. I then talked to a park ranger, and she explained that, because of the familiarity of having humans around, deer don’t recognize danger and the park administration noted a higher number of accidents, on the roads notably.

What do to upon finding an injured animal or one that looks abandoned? Our first instincts as empathetic beings would be to go help them, maybe move them but again, the best way to help them is to not approach them. Instead, telling the park staff where you saw the animal is the way to go. They will help them if necessary but most of the time, animals are not alone. Their family is not far away, and they will eventually get together again.

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CAMERA, OR NO CAMERA?

Spotting wildlife can come with the desire of capturing this moment on camera and there is nothing wrong with that! The same tips as before apply. Maintain a safe distance between yourself and the wildlife and do not feed the animals to attract them and get a close-up image. Maintaining a safe distance between yourself and the animal also means not following the animal when it starts to leave. It feels chased (which it is) and it is put in a stressful situation that doesn’t need to be. When hiking, remaining on the trail is also very important to not destroy the surrounding habitat and ecosystem on which the wildlife relies to live. Sometimes you don’t even need to be hiking to see wildlife and you can see it by the side of the road. Remember to follow safety guidelines and park on the side of the road and turn on your hazard lights.

If you’re like me, love nature but are unfamiliar with some animals names, taking pictures can also be super helpful as they can be downloaded onto apps, like iNaturalist, and give you information about the animal (or plant, as this app also has a plant database). And if you’re looking to connect with other wildlife enthusiasts, there is a whole community of people to discuss where you’ve been and what wildlife you’ve seen. Ebird is a similar app but focuses on birds.

Now that you know the main tips, it’s time to get ready and explore nature to observe wildlife without disturbing or harming it. Bring patience along with you and remember, if you can’t grab that fleeting moment on camera, it’ll live forever in your memories.

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© Émilie Fargeout

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