Scoutmaster Musings - Animal Behavior


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Scoutmaster Musings

Animal Behavior
Hiking Trail Raccoon On the trail this morning, there was a big dark blob far ahead. In the early morning gloom, I couldn't make it out but it was certainly not there yesterday.
It moved.
Oh, just a rodent, another raccoon scrounging around getting into mischief. But, as I walked closer, it didn't scurry off. As a matter of fact, it looked my way and started coming towards me.

Now, wait a minute. I'm 6-1, 175 pounds and he's 1-2, 20 pounds. Why's he coming at me?
"Hey, go away! Hyah, move it!" Nothing, he just keeps waddling towards me so I start backstepping to keep 20 feet or so between us.

He stopped. I stopped and watched. He kind of teetered and swayed like a drunk trying to stay upright.

Now there's no food that he's protecting. No young ones. I can't see or think of anything that makes his behvior make sense. So, I figure there's something wrong with this guy and I'm not about to get bit or scratched by some zombie raccoon.

Since I was in no hurry, I just watched him. He swayed. He turned. He took a few awkward, uncoordinated steps. I waited.

When he finally got over to the side of this wide trail with his back to me, I quickstepped past him on the other side of the trail. He didn't twitch, budge, or react.


So, how should we interact with animals we meet? We should minimize our impact and respect wildlife according to Leave No Trace principles. If our presence is affecting the animal's behavior then we are too close and should remove ourselves from the area.

Normally, an animal will scurry away from humans, recognizing us as threats. You've probably seen squirrels, chipmunks, birds, snakes, rabbits, maybe even turkey, deer, and fox while out hiking. They will run, fly, or slither away as fast as they can until they feel safe. Sometimes just a few feet to stop and look at you. At that point, our reaction should be to continue down the trail, leaving them alone.

But, if their behavior is inconsistent with what is normally expected then the situation might be dangerous. They may feel threatened and cornered, they may have young to protect, or they may be sick. In those cases, any animal may hold its ground or even attack.

When outdoors, keep your eyes and ears open for animals. If you notice any strange behavior, give ground and move away, probably back the way you came. Keep your eye on the animal. When the aggressive behavior stops or you feel you are a safe distance, watch the animal and make a plan. If you wait long enough, most likely the animal will move off the trail and you can continue.


Posted: 11:46 10-17-2011 685
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