Wildlife: We’re in Their World Too


Hiking, above all else, allows me to be in a natural setting. “Listen to the quiet” is a phrase I use often. It is amazing how many hikers don’t take the time to listen to the quiet. But, it is not nearly as amazing as those who enter wilderness with the mistaken belief that they are somehow more entitled to the wilderness than the creatures that naturally inhabit it. I am a “leave no trace” follower, but not a zealot. I do, however, believe that the concept of leave no trace includes not messing with the wildlife.IMG_0134

One of the great things about hiking is seeing wildlife in its natural state. As I left my campground early in the morning, just north of Damascus, I was startled by a black bear cub scurrying up a tree to escape me, and then another.  It was a fascinating and wonderful site. I didn’t stay around to see where their Mom was or do anything else other than enjoy the fact that we were sharing the woods with each other. Veteran hikers and others who spend time outdoors know better than to do anything else. Take a picture, appreciate the sight and move along.

Less experienced people are sometimes prone to think that humans are more important than other animals. Most of us have observed a hiker and others in nature killing and trying to kill snakes, feed bears, or get too close to animals that can do them serious harm. (HYOH not applicable in such situations) These are also traits often found in experienced, but stupid people.  We do what we can to stop such stupidity, educate the humans and move on hoping they won’t do that again.  But, how many times do we hear about people, notwithstanding clear and multiple warnings, nevertheless getting too close to bison at our National Parks and then getting gored or trampled? I admit it. I root for the bison in such encounters. Some lessons can be learned. Sometimes lessons need to be felt.


How many of us don’t hang bear bags and risk a visit by a nighttime creatures? I’ve been tempted, but I am swayed by the fact that I don’t want to put any of my fellow hikers at risk of an unwanted encounter because of my laziness or mere exhaustion. I am also concerned that a bear would be blamed for my actions and punished somehow. I see too many stories of bears being killed because they find themselves in a situation caused by the bad decisions of people. I don’t always understand the thought process which involves punishing the animal for a human’s intentional act. If someone intentionally ignores traffic, walks into the street and is killed by a bus, do we shoot the bus driver? Subjecting yourself to the wilderness comes with certain inherent risks. Recently, a woman in South Africa was on a safari tour, told not to open her window, but did so anyway to get a picture of a wild lion. The risk in violating the rule was that you might be killed by a lion. She was killed by the lion, and instead of talking about failure to follow basic rules commentators wanted to focus on how we make the safaris safer. I have a suggestion: Don’t open your window in the vicinity of lions.

The AT and other trial provide unbelievable opportunities to observe wildlife and become part of the natural habitat. I will continue to listen to the quiet, and try to remember that I am part of nature but not master over it.

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Comments 2

  • Shawn Hudson : Jun 4th

    Great article. I talked with a thru hiker this past week who talked about killing and eating rattlesnakes. He/She said that one hiker fell and landed face-first next to one and freaked out. The other was nearby and didn’t use its rattle to warn him. I’ve read some research recently about rattlesnakes not using their rattles as an evolutionary survival tactic – that because people keep killing the ones who do rattle, they stay silent now or even lose the ability to rattle all-together.

    I fully believe that the best place a hiker can get to mentally/spiritually/whatever you want to call it … is a place of humility via the AT. Entitlement is a word that gets tossed around a lot, but when you’re fetching wood out of a woodpile and you see a snake, don’t kill it. That wood pile isn’t YOURS. It’s the snake’s bedding/home. The snake doesn’t plan on killing or attacking humans, and they’re an extremely valuable part of the ecosystem. The next time that shelter mouse runs over your face at night, think about the snakes that AT hikers are killing nearby and remember what this article points out. It’ ain’t your world. You’re – at best – a passenger … in the park, on earth, in life. Enjoy and be respectful.

  • Joanna : Jun 9th

    Please tell me after all of this being said, especially your comment, “Less experienced people are sometimes prone to think that humans are more important than other animals” that you are vegan. This was something I wanted to educate people on while on my thru-hike and even now within wilderness organizations that so greatly push the “Leave No Trace” ethic of not harming wildlife. It’s hypocritical to treat certain species of animals with respect and not all living creatures born on this Earth. Yes, we domesticated some animals, but as you said, that does not make any of them more or less important than us. We are all animals here to share this Earth.


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