By Derek Lennon EBS Contributor

Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are some of the last remaining wild places in the Lower 48, which is why it’s such an appealing place to come on vacation. When you’re in Big Sky Country, it’s not uncommon to spot a grizzly bear while you’re hiking, have to change your plans because a moose is sleeping in your driveway, or get stuck in a bighorn sheep “traffic jam.”

We share our home and our vast backyard playground with large animals. It’s important that people realize that Big Sky country is not one massive petting zoo. We all need to treat these wild animals with the respect that they deserve.

Always keep a safe distance from wildlife. No matter what. We can’t stress this enough. Big Sky and the surrounding area may seem like a magical playground, but this is not Disneyland. Every year people get injured and even killed because they get too close to wildlife.

No matter how cute and cuddly or tame and calm an animal looks, do not ever approach it. These are wild animals and can be highly unpredictable. It only takes a split second for docile bison to go berserk or a wandering grizzly to turn and charge. Usually these wild animals have a fierce temper when they feel threatened by humans. And—they can move much faster than you. No one wants to be mauled by a grizzly bear, gored by a bison, kicked by a moose, or charged by an elk. Yet it happens more than people realize.

Yellowstone National Park requires visitors to stay at least at least 25 yards away from all large animals and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves.

Our neighbors in Yellowstone National Park require that you stay at least 25 yards away from all large animals and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves. Did you know that in Yellowstone it “is illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within any distance that disturbs or displaces the animal”?

Put yourself in the animal’s shoes for a minute. How would you like it if some loud and obnoxious human came up and approached you while you were eating? Or tried to pet your baby? You’d probably freak out—and no one would blame you. So what makes it OK for you to get up close and personal with bison, elk, bighorn sheep, or other wild creatures?

Whether you are in a crowd, in a car, or on a hike always stay a safe distance away at all times. No one wants to get attacked by a wild animal.

Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the wildlife of Big Sky Country while keeping safety your No. 1 priority:

– Stay a safe distance away from all animals at all times.
– Invest in a good camera with a large zoom lens for photos.
– Do not ever approach large animals.
– Stay on trails and make noise as you travel.
– Keep your dogs and children close.
– Do not take selfies with any wild animals.
– Do not pet wild animals.
– Do not attempt to ride wild animals.
– Do not feed wild animals.
– Go with a tour guide who can help to keep you safe.
– Know what to do in case of a close encounter.

In the rare incident where you do randomly encounter a large animal, speak firmly and back away slowly. Do not run away. Every wild animal and every situation is different but a good general rule is if you don’t terrorize the animal, they won’t terrorize you. Use common sense around large animals and you’ll get to see them in their natural habitat.

Please treat wild animals with the respect that they deserve at all times. It’s in your best interest.

Derek Lennon is a skier and writer who lives, works, and plays in the mountains of the world. He is based in Big Sky, Montana, where he lives with his wife Mia and two dogs.

A version of this story was originally published on the Visit Big Sky blog at https://visitbigskymt.com/safe-distance-wildlife/. Read more interesting content about the area on Visit Big Sky’s blog at https://visitbigskymt.com/category/blog/.