In a way I am relieved that the national parks are closed. The poor animals are getting a rest from the thousands of people-feet that tread through their homes all year. I wonder if it feels like a vacation to them.
When we were at Glacier NP this summer, I paid special attention to the way the animals were treated by the hoards of roaming gawkers throughout the park. Just before reaching the high pass on our second day, we drove by a trio of mountain goats grazing in the afternoon shadows. Unfortunately, they weren’t alone. Dozens of cars converged on the few parking spots nearest them while frantic people poured out, often with iPad in hand, to snap one of a million photos.
What happened next was typical for mass mentality: viewers jockeyed for position to get the best angles of the goat family – a mother, father and fuzzy baby – as they slowly roamed down the hill toward the row of cars. They nibbled on the late summer flowers, yellow and thick in the shadows of the mountain above.
Daddy goat was closest to the people, but a stone wall separated us from them. It was a relatively docile scene, except for the mob of senseless people. They just wanted to point their i-Contraptions at the “wild fauna” and “get the shot.” The goats were not amused. They continued grazing. The goats I met in the Enchantments were this same way – habituated to people and cute enough to make you drop your guard. But this is never a safe or healthy situation. Awe is not a good excuse for forgetting your wild animal fear. Undaunted and habituated, the father goat mostly ignored the people. Mama was more wary. Baby was in between, mostly taking Mama’s cues, but curious about what Daddy was thinking, where he was going.
People pressed in to get the baby, but Daddy was after salt (like goats often are) and on a whim headed straight for the road and the people who now stacked up between cars and trucks which clogged the highway.
And they gawked and gathered, moving ever closer to the majestic wild creatures. Daddy paused at the wall and stood on it, deciding which direction to go, perhaps. This should have been a signal to the masses to move back and give him space to go where he will. Nope. Stupid masses. People crowded him, making him and Mama goat wary.
He stopped cold in the road, not quite sure if the bipeds were going to feed him or harm him. My wild animal sense was going nuts. I encouraged my kids to watch and stay back. One of them wanted to go closer. I had my telephoto lens on my camera. No need to be as close as the iPeople. I kept them between my kids and the daddy goat. Then Daddy headed for an empty parking spot at the end of a parking row, and began licking the liquid car crap off the asphalt.
People were amazed and worked their way mindlessly into a circle around the male goat. Mama bleated at Baby and Daddy in warning. She was uncomfortable. She could see it perfectly from her vantage – he was trapped – surrounded by people. The only thing going through my head then was Mama goat, Mama bear, same thing. Don’t mess. At this point I forgot about my camera and put one hand on each kid, dragging them back to the safety of our car. Chris was ahead of us ushering them inside. Everyone else moved in closer. The story of the man who was gored in ONP is still too fresh in my mind even three years later. We left.
The next day we were hiking in the pass beyond the reach of the masses. About an hour before sunset, only one other couple was on the trail with us when we reached the overlook of a beautiful alpine lake.
Just a bit further up the trail was a male mountain goat, coming right for us. Not running, but not wandering either. I explained to the couple that we should back up, give him space to go where he will, and he continued in our direction. We took a path offshoot hoping to get out of his way, and only then did I see what was driving him. A photographer was following him down the trail, hoping for “the shot”. When the goat moved, he picked up his rig, flipped his camera back over his shoulder, pointing his tripod legs forward, toward the goat. Walking toward the goat. Pursuing the goat, outfitted, conveniently, with huge, long horns.
Of course it doesn’t occur to the photographer what a threat this is. But this big creature (he was a man of larger stature) had a daunting set of horns thrust skyward, in a manner that would have looked, to a male goat, like a threat. Stupid photographer. I explained to the couple and my son how it might appear to the goat to be chased by a creature with larger horns, then wondered to myself if maybe the goat was seeking us out as a herd. There were four of us and that might have looked like safety. We didn’t hang around to find out. The photographer was too far away to shout at or explain anything. We made our way down the trail toward the visitor’s center and left the goat to his space. I am hopeful that the light faded fast enough that the photographer did the same.