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Seven Tips to Enjoy Wildlife Safely

While animals may look cute and huggable, your life (and theirs) may rely on how you behave.

You’ve probably seen them: videos on Instagram, TikTok or other channels showing people getting dangerously close to bears and other wild animals, trying to capture that perfect photo or that viral video.

Each year, there are dozens of bear attacks in various parts of the world.

Here in the Tennessee Valley, native black bears are not the fuzzy stuffed bears in the gift shop; rather, they are wildlife and should not be approached. Similarly, snakes and spiders are not always amenable to up-close-and-personal visits.

How to stay safe when you see a creature in the wild

Take a look at Tennessee Valley Authority’s rules for its gorgeous, 293,000 acres of public lands, especially the undeveloped areas, and heed these seven tips from biologists in the know:

  1. No matter the type of wonderful wildlife you encounter in nature, the word “wildlife” says it all. “Wild” implies these animals are undomesticated, unpredictable and potentially harmful. Give them room. (Hint: Pack binoculars for long-range viewing.)
  2. While spending time in nature, you will see animals going about their normal day. Respect them by being calm and quiet. (Hint: Parents, familiarize your children with Leave No Trace Principles for Youth.)
  3. Notice a snake slithering across your path or a spider spinning a web? Remember your parents’ advice, “He’ll leave you alone, if you’ll leave him alone.” This applies to most all wildlife, large and small. (Hint: Parents, ask your children how it would feel to trade places with a spider or snake.)
  4. Everyone enjoys a snack while hiking. That’s fine, unless you’re in bear country. The Valley is home to black bears in both the Smoky and Cumberland mountains. Properly secure your food. (Hint for hikers/campers: Research foods/smells that bears love, as well as ones they avoid.)
  5. Keep dogs on a 6-foot leash and check guidelines before taking them on trails. Loose canines can be injured by wildlife and vice versa. If Fido is “a barker,” leave him at home. (Hint for dog owners: You get tired and hungry on the trail; so does your dog. Bring snacks and water.)
  6. At TVA, we love to see your pictures. But “the perfect shot” is not worth an injury, or worse. Be mindful when snapping photos, especially of wildlife. (Hint for photo bugs: Post your fun photos from TVA public lands on Instagram and hashtag it #TVAfun -- but shoot at a safe distance!)
  7. Pack a garbage bag to take out what you brought into the woods. Not only is garbage unsightly, it can be deadly for wildlife and encourage them to visit campsites. (Hint: Human food and its wrappings can kill animals that ingest these foreign items.)

“We invite you to discover TVA Public Lands and use them often,” Rebecca Hayden, TVA director of Natural Resources, said. “With more individuals and families heading outdoors, following these tips will help ensure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy nature for generations to come.”

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