How to stay safe in a theme park: Respect the local wildlife

How to stay safe in a theme park: Respect the local wildlife

With the horrible tragedy that befell the Graves family at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa this week, this is an excellent article from Theme Park Insider regarding always beware of the many inherent natural dangers that lurk not just in Orlando, but in many areas of the United States frequented by family’s for their family vacation. This is no way lays any blame on the Graves family. They were just n vacation and not aware of the wildlife which exists in Florida. The tragedy that happened at Walt Disney World is just that, a horrible tragedy.

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How to stay safe in a theme park: Respect the local wildlife

June 15, 2016, 10:16 AM · We’ve long worked to educate visitors about staying safe in theme parks. While the most dangerous part of a theme park visit remains getting to and from the park itself, your time inside a theme park resort is not entirely risk free. But with a little common sense and some knowledge, the odds are overwhelming that you’ll suffer no physical harm while visiting a park or its surrounding resort.But as we saw last night at Walt Disney World, accidents happen. For those who haven’t yet heard the news, an alligator attacked a two-year-old boy who was playing at the edge of the water of the Seven Seas Lagoon, next to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. The boy’s father went into the water to try to wrestle the child from the gator, but failed. The search continues this morning for the boy’s body. (Update: The boy’s body has been recovered and identified. See link above.)

The family who lost their child last night was from Nebraska. I’ve lived in Omaha and in Orlando and never once did I think that anything potentially fatal was lurking under the surface of any pond, lake, or stream in Nebraska. But Florida is different. Most people who live in Central Florida understand you just ought to assume that any body of water large enough to hold a gator actually has a gator in it. Yet visitors from up north don’t know that. Disney posts signs around the Seven Seas Lagoon prohibiting swimming in the lake, but the warning signs don’t mention gators or wildlife. Visitors who assume the warning is just Disney’s attempt to escape liability for drownings due so at grave risk they don’t know they’re taking.

So to our list of theme park safety tips, let’s add this: Respect the local wildlife.

Step one toward doing that is acknowledging that you don’t know about the local wildlife. Don’t assume that the woods, water, fields, beach, or desert in the place you are visiting are the same as yours at home. Vacation destinations can help by posting warning signs or distributing information at check-in about the local wildlife and the risks associated with them. I just returned from a visit to Yellowstone National Park, and believe me, the park officials there were aggressive in warning people about the wildlife in the park. Travelers need hosts in all other vacation destinations with local wildlife to be just as aggressive about informing their guests, too.

This isn’t just for the protection of visitors. A week before my visit to Yellowstone, a clueless family loaded a baby bison into the back of their car because they feared it was getting too cold. Rangers eventually had to put down the bison calf after its herd rejected it.

Respecting wildlife means understanding that these animals are wild. They are not pets and should not be treated as domesticated animals. So keep your distance. Do not approach or try to interact with the animals. If a wild animal approaches you, you need to know the correct response to avoid provoking the animal to attack, then as best you can, try to move away to give the animal the space it deserves. Remember that federal law protects many species of wild animals and prohibits contact with them.

Respecting wildlife also means that you should never attempt to feed them. It sickened me to read in the Orlando Sentinel’s report that some Disney guests have been feeding the wild alligators o property. This is beyond stupid.Feeding animals conditions them to seek contact with human beings, with potentially disastrous results.

Feeding wild alligators is against the law in Florida [PDF link]. We’d love to see Disney start backing this up by ejecting and permanently banning from its property any guests found to be feeding alligators on Walt Disney World property, as well.

Last night’s tragedy exposed that too few visitors to Central Florida know the risks associated with local wildlife. It’s not the fault of this family, who have suffered an unimaginable loss. No one told them.

So we’re telling you now. Spread the word. For your safety — as well as the safety of wild animals — respect the local wildlife in all of your travels.

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Don Korta
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