Summertime in Canada is all about having fun and being adventurous in the great outdoors – and the opportunities to explore stunning landscapes are endless. In fact, Parks Canada is offering free admission to national parks all year to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary, giving Canadians even more opportunity to soak in the country’s natural beauty in all its glory.
While the Canadian wilderness is breathtaking, it is also home to a host of wildlife from bears, moose, wolves and cougars, to bugs like mosquitos and ticks. Whether strolling in the woods or backcountry camping, it’s important to take the right precautions to avoid unwanted incidents.
Scouts know that the best way to stay safe is to always be prepared. Drawing on more than 100 years of experience providing youth with high quality adventures, Scouts Canada is offering 10 tips to avoid dangerous animal encounters when camping and adventuring outdoors.
- Location, location, location: When choosing a site for your tent, avoid setting up near lampposts, pools of standing water or rotting logs. Insects, raccoons and other small animals love these areas and will certainly make themselves at home.
- Feed yourself, not the wildlife: Food attracts a variety of woodland critters, so the best way to avoid any unwanted dinner guests is to maintain a clean campsite and to never feed wild animals. Avoid food with strong aromas and clean the dishes immediately after eating. Store food in odourless, airtight containers in the car. If you’re deep in the woods, string food and food waste from a tree, well away from the campsite. Make sure to dispose of food garbage properly to leave no trace.
- Be scent-free: Know the scents that attract and repel wild animals and insects. Bugs love anything with a fragrance like perfumes, colognes, shampoos, and deodorant. Opt for unscented products and cook and sleep in different clothes to avoid smelling like food.
- Get loud: Let wild animals know you’re out there so they can avoid you. Clap, sing or talk loudly, especially near streams or while proceeding through dense trails and vegetation.
- Look for the signs: Keep an eye out for signs of wildlife nearby such as tracks, fresh droppings, scratches on tree trunks, or animal homes. Stay away from fresh carcasses as animals may return to eat. While baby animals are adorable, spotting one also means mom is nearby and will be aggressive to protect her young. Leave the area immediately and make sure you don’t get between mom and her cubs.
- Dress the part: Dress to protect against wildlife and insects. This can include wearing insect repellent, long pants and long-sleeved shirts, mosquito netting, boots or gloves. With tick populations on the rise, check clothing, skin and pets frequently for ticks, as they are potential carriers of Lyme Disease and Powassan Virus. If you find any ticks on your body, remove them immediately with tweezers, disinfect the bite area and watch for signs of infection. Put the tick in a clean container and contact public health.
- Safety in numbers: Wild animals are less likely to approach large groups. The buddy system is also great in case of an emergency.
- Keep pets leashed: Pets can attract aggressive behaviour from animals like bears and cougars. Consider leaving them at home when hiking in areas where these animals reside. If you bring your pets, keep them leashed and don’t leave them unattended. Make sure pet food and bowls are also secured away in a vehicle or stored safely with your own food.
- Lights on/off: Bugs typically like light, but aren’t so fond of fire and smoke. Lighting a campfire will help encourage the insects and wildlife to leave you alone. Flashlights are also helpful to have at night to keep wild animals away – and to see – but keeping them on inside your tent is a beacon for those pesky bugs.
- Animal encounters: Know what types of wildlife reside in the area and check for reports of recent sightings. Learn the basics of how to react when encountering different wildlife. Should a bear wander across your path, for example, keep calm and don’t run – the bear can outrun, out climb and out swim you. Back away slowly and move your group into the vehicle, not the tent. If you can’t get to the car, leave the area immediately and find another route.
Always bring a first aid kit, quality insect repellent, bear spray and noisemakers to be prepared for any scenario. A good place to start preparing is at a local Scout Shop or scoutshop.ca, where staff can provide tips and advice for a safe and enjoyable adventure. Once armed with knowledge and supplies, you are prepared to get out there and explore the great outdoors!
Canadian youth can experience a world of adventure and learn some of these essential skills through Scouting. Those who register now for the new Scouting year, which begins September 1, 2017, can immediately join Scouting activities throughout the summer. For more information or to register, visit www.scouts.ca.