Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
Photographing wildlife in the Buffalo National River park is not like photography at the zoo. This is wild country and the animals are wild. Here are some basic safety tips and issues you should be aware of.
Wild animals are not tame animals. I have seen people running after elk in the fields along highway 43. They seem to be oblivious to any danger. Besides the fact that chasing elk doesn't work, and that harassing elk is illegal, it is also dangerous. Elk can be unpredictable, and during the mating and during the calving seasons, they might attack people chasing them. There is no payoff for chasing after elk, there is risk. You will never outrun one if the tables are turned.
20% of armadillos carry the bacteria that cause leprosy. I run into these little guys all the time in the woods. While it seems unlikely that anyone would be exposed to the bodily fluids of an armadillo, it would be wrong to omit this hazard from this list. Don't touch armadillos alive or dead. They are pretty stupid and they will walk right up to you.
Northwest Arkansas has a sizable bear population. It is likely you will never see one, but if you do, keep your distance. A bear can cover the ground at 40 feet a second, about twice as fast as any human that has ever lived. No bear is safe, but sow bears with cubs are absolutely the most dangerous. If you see a cub bear back out slowly. This is the most dangerous situation in the Arkansas wilderness. Picking up a cub bear is a death sentence. Native Americans considered it a sign from god if they encountered a bear on the trail and there was no problem.
Back out any time you see a bear cub. Move slowly and deliberately and assess your situation. And, best wishes, there is no air tight solution except get the hell away as carefully as you can.
Snakes can be another local treat. Most of them are not poisonous, and I would not expect to see very many. The exception is around the water where there are always more snakes. I admit to liking snakes -- too many are killed because of irrational fear. If you see one, just stay away (use your telephoto).
Our poisonous snakes include the eastern diamondback rattlers, pygmy rattlers, timber rattlers, copperheads, Texas coral snakes and cottonmouths. Nice huh? If you dig around in the wilderness trails you just might see one. This is the snake bite page of the outstanding snakes of Arkansas website. It lays out the % likelihood of getting bit by any species, and the toxicity issues, prevention, and the real hazards. Getting killed by a snake bite is significantly less likely than getting killed by lightning.
Remember snakes will be active at the ends of the day and at night. It is always a good idea in snake country to have a flashlight at night.
There is no rational reason to kill every snake you see. Mostly they keep to themselves. I had a timber rattler out back and I took 375 pictures of her before I got tired of it. I could not get her to coil up in the striking position. Timber rattlers are quite docile and are protected in 17 states as a threatened species.
Hiking Trail Dangers
Hiking in this region can be very dangerous. The trails are rocky and very slippery when wet. Often you are on bare rock shelves with poor traction. Every year in the Buffalo National River park, a few people take terrible falls because of the severe conditions. Occasionally someone dies because of the high bluffs and hazardous trails. I have been on trails where it was quite clear that if I fell, there was nothing between me and certain death.
If you hike the trails consider getting very high quality hiking shoes designed to deal with slippery rock. I have Keen hiking sandals and they seem to work very well.
Hiking the River
The Buffalo National River bed is nothing but rock with small patches of sand. This is like ice if you have the wrong shoes and if you fall your head will hit rock because there is nothing else. Fly fishermen use felt bottomed shoes on this kind of surface with good results. I have metal studs on my boots designed to ice, they seem to work pretty well. I would like studs and felt.
When hiking the river wet, the smaller the rocks the better. Sand is better than gravel, gravel is better than small stones, small stones are better than larger stones.
I try to stay on the dry gravel and rock as much as possible, and hike wet as little as possible.
The Buffalo National River can flash flood in a heartbeat. Any heavy rain can result in a violent flood because the surrounding land is mostly rock. Remember this when you hike and when you camp. The river can rise to amazing levels over a few days.
General Hiking Safety Tips
Know the trail you are on, have a map, compass and GPS.
Know the weather you face and consider its implications.
Always tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to return.
Don't hike alone if you have the choice. I practically always do hike alone, but my wife always knows where I am going.
First class site with information on IDing snakes, snake bites, photos and behavior by species.
Bear safety tips from bebearawaresw.org. Very sound and concise.
Safety Issues in BNR Wildlife Photography
Arkansas Timber Rattler
Stalking Black Bear
NEVER do this on the trail. Who is this crazy person?