A few years ago, right before we went on our annual camping trip, the news was full of stories about children getting attacked by bears while they were camping. In fact there seems to be an up rise in the occurrence of bears attacking people over the last decade. The really scary part is that several of these attacks did not take place in the backcountry wilds, but in established camping areas, parks and other recreational facilities. I will admit that I was particularly diligent the first night and slept with one eye open. Fortunately nothing larger than a chipmunk hopped up on the sugar from a stolen Oreo visited our camp.
So lets talk about chipmunks. Aren’t they cute and they look so friendly you just have to feed them, right? Don’t! Not only do chipmunks carry diseases that can be spread to any unsuspecting human that they bite or scratch, but also their presence may attract other bigger and more dangerous animals. Some of the wildlife may want to eat the food you are trying to give the chipmunks; some may want to eat the chipmunks. Believe it or not it is a sometimes a little traumatizing if your young child is watching a cute little chipmunk eating a cookie, and some large bird suddenly snatches the little fellow up and carried off to chipmunk heaven. Of course if you have teenage boys this same incident could be deemed the coolest thing that happened on the entire trip.
Now onto squirrels. Squirrels are funny, cunning and often sneaky animals. I once knew a boy who was chased by a squirrel. He was walking along and there it was. He had some candy in his pocket and held out his hand to feed it. The squirrel actually took the candy, but one piece was not enough. The squirrel started following him. He started to run and the squirrel ran after him, following him right to his tent and scratching on the side trying to get in. Personally I think they were both a little nuts!
Seriously though, chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, opossums and other small animals can be dangerous. Rabies is still a big problem in some areas. But you are in the woods so how can you protect yourself from these wild animals?
Do not feed them.
Do not leave food out for long periods of time. Put snacks in a cooler or animal safe container. Put coolers in the car at night. Do not leave food out at night. Many animals that are bigger than chipmunks may come to visit. Nighttime is also when skunks and raccoons like to eat everything they can get their little paws on.
Do not leave garbage out over night. Animals have a much stronger sense of smell then people. They will smell that chip back, or hamburger meat wrapper form far away.
Teach you children the same rules.
Snakes are another big problem in many camping areas. Yes, there are poisonous snakes out there and occasionally they do bite. Learn what snakes inhabit the area in and surrounding the campgrounds you visit. (Snakes eat chipmunks by the way.) Show your children pictures of these snakes and make it clear not to touch or try to pick up any snakes they may find.
Bears are also attracted by food and garbage. Personally I would much rather be attacked by a chipmunk than a bear, but it is better to avoid any wild animal attacks at all. I will say here that just because you see a bear or other wild animal does not mean it will attack you. Just don’t do anything to give it cause. Many campers say that if you stand up tall and make a lot of noise it will scare the bear away. Just don’t make a noise like a chipmunk because I am pretty sure bears eat chipmunks too. The point is, keep a clean campsite and it won’t attract wild animals.
There are many other wild animals out there that may visit your campsite. The key to avoiding any problems is to be aware. Know what wild animals live in that area and what may attract them. Oh, and remember YOU are the one who has invaded their territory. Don’t harm them unnecessarily because you subscribe to the get them before they can get you theory.
by Sandra Webster