Travelling in search of wildlife might, by its very nature, seem like a dangerous undertaking. Most wild animals, however, do their utmost to avoid human contact and will only attack people if they feel threatened. There are a few exceptions – polar bears, for example, are formidable predators and pose a real danger when they come into contact with human settlements, while crocodiles are opportunistic ambush hunters more than capable of snatching people who approach within range. Understand what’s out there and take heed of your guide’s advice and you should remain perfectly safe. Far more serious are the potentially fatal diseases transmitted by biting insects and contaminated water. As well as taking precautions against contracting these, you should also be aware of the dangers posed by extreme cold and heat, intense sun and high altitude.
Staying Healthy: Dangerous Animals
From grizzlies to great whites, black mambas to black widows, the world seems full of creatures hell-bent on killing people. That, at least, is what the press would have you believe. It only takes a single, isolated shark or bear attack to whip the media into a frenzy of ‘deadly creature’ statistics. The reality is that very few, if any, animals are actually out to get us.
Certain venomous spiders and snakes are dangerous to humans because we inadvertently invade their space or fail to recognise their camouflage or warning markings. Some find man-made habitats, like crop fields, woodpiles or even houses, just as good as natural ones. Other species mistake us for their natural prey (a great white shark, for example, confusing a human swimmer for a seal), while some, like the Nile and estuarine crocodile, see people as fair prey if they come within range.
Then there are the opportunists – elephants, buffalo, big cats, grizzly bears etc – which raid crops, kill domestic cattle or associate hikers with a free lunch. Confrontation inevitably leads to casualties – on both sides. Occasionally, human and animal worlds simply collide – a territorial hippo, for example, finding someone between it and the river, or a bull moose stepping onto a highway at the wrong moment. Some innocuous looking creatures (like the box jellyfish and poison dart frog) produce venoms and toxins that are lethal enough to kill a human several times over – but remember that they evolved these substances long before people arrived on the scene. Monkeys, racoons, bats and even domestic animals can all be rabies carriers, while mosquitoes, of course, are responsible for transmitting malaria – a disease that claims around two million human lives every year.
Stay safe by following these rules:
1. Observe warning signs
Beaches in northern Australia, for example, will have signs warning if box jellyfish or crocodiles are present.
2. Heed expert advice
Local guides and national park wardens will brief you on what to do in the event of a potentially dangerous encounter.
3. Don’t go looking for trouble
Respect the territories of wild animals and never interfere with their feeding or courtship behaviour, threaten their young, attempt to feed them or get too close for a photograph.
4. Take precautions
Reduce risk by taking anti-malarials and properly equipping yourself, ie: wearing stinger suits if swimming in seas where jellyfish may be present, or tying bear bells to your pack if hiking in grizzly country.
Staying Healthy on a Wildlife Holiday Q&A
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