Thursday, August 4, 2011

A call of the wild not to fear

Grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park
It’s been a summer of wild animals. A mountain lion in Greenwich. Two grizzly bear attacks – one on a group of teenage boys on a wilderness trip in Alaska, another that killed a man in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. And now it’s the Discovery Channel’s infamous Shark Week, sure to coincide with an actual shark attack somewhere in Florida or Australia or New Zealand. 

Now I’m planning my backpacking trip to the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho – a giant swath of mountainous, wildflower-strewn, snow peak-dotted backcountry that is home to hundreds of species of wild life. Idaho has grizzlies, but mostly in the part of the state that borders Yellowstone. Still, the Sawtooths are home to plenty of other awesome animals, from mountain lions and black bears to the more harmless mountain goats and elk. I’ve camped all over – up in the mountains near Aspen by Conundrum Hot Springs, in the eastern Sierra, down in a swamp in Louisiana scared of creeping alligators. (I should have been more worried about mosquitoes and ticks, which got me plenty.)

Conundrum Hot Springs trail, near Aspen, Colorado
I always get a little nervous at night, curled up in my sleeping bag with only the nylon wall of my tent separating me from the great outdoors and all the creatures that roam there at night. Thinking that at any moment a black bear is going to tear through the tent and….

But most likely, it’s not gonna happen. Despite all the hype surrounding wild animal attacks, the chances of actually having a dangerous run-in with a bear/lion/shark/rattlesnake/swarm of killer bees is actually quite low.

Consider the odds.

In 2010, there were 79 shark attacks worldwide, with six fatalities.

In the past 100 years, just more than 50 people died from black bear attacks in North America.

Mountain lion
Since 1890, 23 people in North America were killed in attacks by mountain lions.

In the past 60 years, there were 22 people killed in unprovoked alligator attacks in Florida.
Then consider:

In 2009, more than 30,000 people died in car crashes.

So it’s totally safer to get out of your car, hike into the wilderness and camp out under a canopy of treetops and twinkling stars. 

But it's never a bad idea to bring some bear repellent spray. 

By the way, congrats to David Streever for winning a free FroyoWorld gift certificate on last week's giveaway! (And big thanks to FroyoWorld for the generous offer!) No prizes this week, but would love to hear your wild animal encounters.