Keep Wildlife Wild

Across the tallest mountain peaks and the high plains to the dramatic canyons and the sand-dune deserts, many species call Colorado home, making it the perfect destination for wildlife enthusiasts to catch a glimpse of nature at its finest.

By: Staff Writer
Updated: February 22, 2024

Encounters with wildlife can be exciting, magical and gratifying — but it’s important to remember that the outdoors are first and foremost a home to these animals, and with that comes the responsibility to be a courteous guest.

Wild animals need nature lovers like you who will encourage their survival rather than add to the difficulties they already face. Unfortunately, wildlife in Colorado face threats from loss and fragmentation of habitat, invasive species, pollution and disease. Protected lands offer a last refuge from some, but not all, of these problems. 

Help us care for Colorado’s wildlife and keep these safety tips in mind when exploring our beautiful state.

Wildlife-Safety Tips

  • Hike during the daytime, when nocturnal predators will be resting, and observe safety signs and literature posted in local parks for up-to-date information on wildlife in your area.
  • Always watch or photograph animals from a safe distance to avoid startling them or forcing them to flee. Use the observation areas, platforms and trails provided in many recreation areas, and bring binoculars, spotting scopes and telephoto lenses to watch wildlife without being noticed. 
  • Lead by example and avoid interacting with wildlife, while teaching children not to approach, pet or feed wild animals. 
  • Stay out of the line of travel for animals on the move. They’re likely headed toward food or shelter and could be set off their course of survival while trying to avoid you. 
  • Wild animals appreciate their personal space — do not follow or approach them.
  • Don’t encircle or crowd wildlife, tease or attempt to pick up a wild animal. Their behaviors can be unpredictable, but it’s a safe bet that their reaction will be defensive.
  • It’s best not to touch or move wild animals, especially young ones, as they may be abandoned by their parents as a result.
  • If an animal reacts to your presence, back away slowly while avoiding quick movements and direct eye contact with them. These actions may be interpreted as aggression and can spark a defensive reaction.
  • Travel quietly, except in bear country, where groups and noise can deter bears from coming near.
  • If you are hunting, know your game and take only safe, clean shots to avoid scaring away your prey.
  • Notify a game warden if you find an animal in trouble. Oftentimes, these animals are sick or injured and should be left alone to reduce the risk of spreading disease.

Avoid Sensitive Times & Habitats

In some situations, avoiding wildlife habitats both for your safety and for the animals’ is the best plan. Animals are most sensitive to disturbance when pursuing and defending mates and territories, giving birth, guarding their young or nests, and when food is scarce. For example, in early June Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep give birth in craggy areas at mid-elevation in the mountains, while moose hang out in the willows along low elevation streambeds during the winter. Reading up on the animals and seasonal conditions of the areas you will be visiting will help you plan your route to prevent stressful encounters with wildlife.

Never feed wild animals

As cute as they might be and no matter how much they beg — never feed wild animals. They might not know it, but you’ll be doing them a favor in the long run. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers. 

Headlines are made when wildlife is attracted to humans and their food. Bears get the most attention for tearing into tents, coolers and cars in search of a meal, but in reality, rodents and birds will likely be the wildlife you have the most interactions with while camping. These animals pose little threat to human safety, but their presence can be a nuisance, they can spread disease and their taste for human food is a harm to their own well-being.

Animals are adept opportunists. When offered the temptations of an untidy backcountry kitchen or a handout from a curious camper, they can overcome their natural wariness of humans. Aggressive or destructive behavior may follow, and in conflicts with humans, animals ultimately lose. Human foods and products are harmful to wildlife because they prevent animals from foraging and eating a nutritious diet. An easy meal lures wildlife into hazardous areas such as campsites and trailheads or roads and entry points, where they may be chased by dogs or hit by vehicles. It may also cause them to congregate in unnatural numbers, increasing stress and the spread of disease within their populations.

To avoid attracting these visitors, store food and trash securely. “Food” includes garbage, canned food, stock feed, pet food, fuel and scented or flavored toiletries. 

Discourage temptation by being careful not to drop food on the trail and keeping a clean camp by picking up all garbage — even the tiniest food scraps — and carrying it out in a trash bag. Appropriate storage and transportation methods vary considerably from place to place, so consult local rangers and land managers about the best practices for the area you are visiting.

Learn about bear safety and food-handling practices here >>

Exploring With Pets

You love your furry best friend, but wildlife and pets are generally not a good mix. Even on a leash, dogs can harass wildlife and may disturb other visitors. A dog can frighten animals and distract them from performing tasks vital to their survival, such as finding food, or can provoke aggressive behavior. 

If you must travel with your pet, check in advance for restrictions that are in place to protect yourself, your pet and the animals that inhabit the area. Most national parks prohibit dogs on all trails, no matter how well behaved or trained they are. Plan ahead to find dog-friendly areas and, unless otherwise stated, remember to always use a collar and a short leash to ensure that you remain in control of your dog. Additionally, remove pet waste from trails, picnic areas and campsites by disposing of it in a cat hole as you would human waste, or in a trash can to maintain pleasant conditions, avoid the spread of disease and preserve the natural ecosystem.

Learn more about how you can respect wildlife.