Seeing wildlife is one of the most magical parts of enjoying the outdoors in Colorado. You can encounter moose, big horn sheep, mountain goats, pika, deer, and even bear. They are all beautiful and graceful and it is truly a joy to see them in their natural habitat.
That being said, it is important to remember that you are in its home and habitat. No matter how beautiful, wildlife are indeed wild animals and will respond to you with natural, animal instinct. If you do not treat wildlife appropriately, a wildlife encounter can quickly become dangerous.
Keep Your Distance
The best way to ensure your safety and the animal’s safety is to stay a respectful distance from the animal. Even a mild animal can react if they feel backed into a corner or surprised. Don’t directly approach an animal. Make plenty of noise as you hike on a trail, so wildlife won’t be surprised by your approach. You can wear a bell, or shout occasionally to announce your presence.
When You Get Too Close
Bears, mountain lions, and moose can be particularly dangerous if you get too close. Bears are generally afraid of humans and don’t want to be near you. However, if you catch one by surprise, or get between a mama and her cub, it may attack. Mountain lions are rarely encountered in the wild. But, as private property encroaches on mountain lion territory, human/lion interactions are happening more often. Small children or pets can be perceived as prey and attract lions. It is important to watch children playing outside and keep them near you on the trail. If you encounter a mountain lion or a bear too close, make yourself look larger. Put your hands in the air or pull a jacket up high over your shoulders. Speak firmly and calmly, saying a phrase such as “I’m going to back up!” Then back up slowly. Resist the instinct to run, that can signal that you are prey.
Moose are different. Moose are very curious and usually not afraid to approach humans. While they look friendly and docile they can be very dangerous. Male moose are territorial, especially during the fall and may defend their territory. Female moose are protective of their young calves during the spring. The only predator moose face are wolves, as a result, dogs can also trigger a moose’s aggressive defense instincts. You can tell a moose is agitated or in an aggressive state when its ears are laid back flat and its hairs are raised on its back. In a moose encounter, first you want to stay calm and make yourself look large. If the moose charges, it is ok to run. Get a large object such as a tree or car between you and the moose. If you fall down, return to a standing position as soon as possible. In the presence of a moose keep your dog on leash and under control.
Negative encounters with wildlife are very rare. When you are being safe and smart in the wilderness, you will get to enjoy your wildlife encounters. Never feed wildlife and never approach them at an unsafe distance. For more information about how to camp and hike safely in bear and mountain lion territory see the Colorado Parks and Wildlife webpage.