Wildlife Safety

A brown bear in a valley and mountain background

NPS/Kara Lewandowski

Wildlife in Alaska

Alaska is overflowing with opportunities to view animals in their natural setting. Along with these opportunities, visitors have a special obligation to keep themselves and the wildlife safe.

Please keep animals wild by following these rules when encountering wildlife:

Keep wildlife wild
Do not feed or allow wildlife to obtain human foods. This includes small animals, like squirrels, which can become surprisingly aggressive if they grow accustomed to getting food from people. You don't want your vacation ruined because a squirrel bit your fingertip off.

Keep your distance
Do not approach or follow wildlife. Stay 300 yards (300 meters) away from bears and maintain a minimum 25 yards (25 meters) distance from all other animals, dens, and nests.

Don't harass wildlife
If your presence alters an animal’s behavior, you are too close.

Keep a clean camp
Avoid setting up camp on or near game trails. Cook and eat away from your sleeping area. Store your food by locking it in your vehicle or using a bear-proof storage container.

Wildlife viewing from the road
If you are driving in the park and wish to stop to view wildlife, be sure to pull as far out of the roadway as you safely can. If you cannot safely exit the roadway, drive past the wildlife and look for a safe spot to park or turn around. Do not stop in the middle of the road!

Basic Moose Safety Tips

Herbivores can be just as dangerous as carnivores. Moose weigh up to 1,600 lbs - three or four times the weight of a grizzly - and will charge anything they think is threatening.

Give moose plenty of room
Stay at least 25 yards (25m) or two bus-lengths away from moose. A cow with its young can be extremely defensive and require additional space.

If you do find yourself close to a moose...
If it hasn’t detected you yet, keep it that way.

  • If it knows you’re there, talk to it softly and move away slowly.

  • Don’t be aggressive – you want to convince the moose that you aren’t a threat.

  • If you think the moose is going to charge you, take cover or run away.

Watch for signs that a moose is upset
If its ears are laid back and hackles are up, a moose is upset. When upset, it could decide to charge. Most of the time, when a moose charges it is a ‘bluff’, or warning for you to get back – a warning you should take very seriously! Once a moose bluff charges, it is already agitated. If possible, get behind something solid (like a tree or a car).Unlike with bears, it is okay to run from a moose. They usually won’t chase you and if they do, it’s unlikely that they’ll chase you very far.If a moose knocks you down, curl up in a ball and protect your head with your arms and keep still. Fighting back will only convince the moose that you may still be a threat. Only move once the moose has backed off to a safe distance or it may renew its attack.

Be Bear Aware!

All of Alaska is bear country. You may have a chance to see a bear in the backcountry, but even if you don't, you will never be far from one. Bears are curious, intelligent animals and tend to avoid or ignore people, but they still can be dangerous. Respecting bears and learning proper behavior can help you avoid a human-bear conflict and know how to react if you do see one.

Stay Alert
Use your eyes, ears and even your nose to detect the presence of a bear. The sooner you are aware of a bear, the more time you have to react appropriately.

Be Visible, Make Noise
Bears don't like to be surprised. A surprise encounter with a bear is dangerous. Avoid surprises by traveling in open areas with good visibility. Make noise as you walk, particularly in if visibility is poor -- talk, clap or even sing. Be extra alert in windy conditions or near noisy streams that mask your sound. If possible, travel with the wind at your back. Bears can see almost as well as people but trust their noses more than their eyes or ears.

Safety in Numbers
The larger your group is, the less risk of a bear attacking. Group members should stay within a few feet of each other, particularly if visibility is poor. Scattered groups do not provide the protection of cohesive groups.

Avoid Bears
If possible, change your course to avoid bears that you've detected, or move slowly away from them. Never approach a bear, even from a boat or kayak; approaching a bear can cause undue stress and provoke an attack.
Never Run
You can't outrun a bear. If a bear approaches you, it is most likely uncomfortable with how close you are. Defensive encounters arise when a bear is surprised or feels like you are a threat to itself, its cubs, or its food. The closer you are to the bear before it becomes aware of you, the more likely it is to react defensively. Remain calm and stand your ground.

Store Food Properly
Keep all food and scented items under your immediate control, at all times. While camping, keep a clean camp and store food appropriately. Do not allow a bear to get your food. It will only encourage the bear and make the problem worse for the next person.

Report Bear Encounters
If you have an encounter with a bear, report it to a park ranger as soon as possible. This will alert others and enable park staff to respond appropriately to the situation, if necessary.

Protecting Yourself

Bear deterrents, including bear spray and firearms, can be helpful but should never be a substitute for common sense approaches to bear-human interactions. If a bear charges you, a deterrent can help save your life, but remember, proper behavior in bear country is the best deterrent available.
Bear spray contains capsicum (red pepper extract) and is effective at deterring bears at close range. When sprayed in an animal’s face, bear spray causes an almost immediate burning sensation. Bear sprays are designed to propel a mist for 15-30 ft. Always keep your bear spray accessible so you can use it quickly. Bear spray should always be discharged downwind. Aim slightly into the wind so the wind will carry the spray back in front of the bear. If you’re facing into a strong headwind, try to reposition yourself so the spray won’t blow back in your face. Hold the canister firmly with both hands so that one hand is positioned with the index finger in the loop and the thumb resting on the trigger and the other hand is lower down with the fingers wrapped around the canister. Using both hands helps you maintain good aim. Start spraying when the charging bear is 30 ft away. Most canisters contain enough deterrent for a 7 second spray. Aim the nozzle down and create a wall of deterrent.
Be sure to check with your air carrier when taking bear spray into the backcountry. Bear spray may not be taken on commercial flights and each air carrier may have a different rule for transporting.
Park visitors are allowed to carry firearms in the park’s backcountry for personal protection. However, If you are inexperienced with a firearm, it can be difficult to deploy in an emergency situation. It is strongly recommended to carefully assess your skill level with firearms before doing so. It is legal to shoot a bear in defense of life or property in Alaska ONLY if you have made a concerted effort to avoid problems, if you did not provoke an attack, cause a problem by negligently leaving food or garbage in a manner that attracts bears, and if you have done everything else you can to protect your life and property. In the event a bear is killed for self-protection, you are responsible for ending your planned itinerary and transporting the skull and properly skinned hide with claws attached to the proper authorities. Additional guidelines regarding defense of life or property are listed in the Alaska Hunting Regulations produced annually by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Last updated: April 12, 2022