Hikers’ Etiquette: A Guide to Responsible and Respectful Walking in Nature

Walking in nature provides us with an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the beauty of the natural world.

By following proper guidelines and rules, such as staying on designated trails and not disturbing wildlife, we can enjoying outdoor moments, minimizing our impact and contributing to the preservation of the delicate ecosystems.

I captured a photograph of one of the informative signs found in parks across Singapore, as I found it to be exceptionally comprehensive. The rules stated on these signs can be universally applied to parks and natural reserves. I deeply admire the Singapore government’s dedication to preserving nature, and I believe it would be beneficial if similar guidelines were implemented and respected in every comparable location. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to come across such informative signs in outdoor spaces, possibly due to a lack of emphasis by the respective authorities or a general lack of awareness regarding proper behavior. Therefore, it becomes crucial for hikers and nature enthusiasts to familiarize themselves with the best practices for outdoor activities.

Stay on designed trails

Staying on designated trails while walking or hiking in a park is of utmost importance for two main reasons: to protect the local Fauna & Flora and to protect yourself.

Trails are carefully planned and constructed to minimize the impact on the surrounding environment. Straying off the trail can trample fragile vegetation, disturb wildlife habitats, and lead to soil erosion. Parks often have protected or sensitive areas. These areas may include breeding grounds, nesting sites, or habitats of endangered species. By staying on the designated trail, you respect these boundaries and minimize disturbances to these sensitive areas, allowing wildlife to thrive undisturbed.

Wildlife is often sensitive to human presence and can be easily startled or stressed by unexpected encounters. Animals may build nests, lay eggs, or forage in specific areas away from the trail to protect their young or find food sources. Some parks may harbor rare or endangered species that require special protection. Venturing off the trail can unintentionally disturb these activities, potentially leading to abandonment of nests or disrupting natural feeding patterns or inadvertently trampling on their habitats interfering with their survival.

By adhering to the designated trail decrease the probability of disrupting animal habitats, including nesting sites, burrows, or resting areas. This ensures that animals can engage in their natural behaviors undisturbed.

Trails are designed to provide a safe route for hikers minimizes the chances of accidents or injuries. Trails let you avoid steep slopes, hazardous terrain, or areas prone to rockfalls. Staying on trails allows you to minimize the chances of encountering venomous snakes or territorial animals in close proximity, thus avoiding the risk of unexpected encounters or conflicts with wildlife.

Remember, wildlife should be observed from a safe distance, and it is important to respect their space and natural behaviors. Staying on the designated trail allows for a balanced coexistence between humans and wildlife, ensuring that both can thrive in their respective environments.

Don’t feed wildlife

Feeding wild animals may seem like a kind gesture, but it is generally discouraged and even prohibited in many natural areas. These rules are in place to protect the well-being of the animals, preserve the natural balance of the ecosystem, and ensure the safety of visitors.

Even in this case, there are several reasons why it is important not to feed wild animals.

For the animals itself

Animals have an opportunistic nature and tend to be attracted to the most easily accessible food sources, even if they are not the most nutritious or appropriate for their dietary needs. Human food is often not suitable for wild animals and can cause nutritional imbalances or health issues.

Take as example feeding ducks with bread: bread lacks the necessary nutrients for the healthy growth and development of ducks (and other wildlife). It can fill their stomachs without providing the essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins they need. Over time, a diet high in bread can lead to malnutrition and weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.

Uneaten pieces of breads can accumulate in water bodies. This can contribute to water pollution and nutrient imbalance, leading to harmful algal blooms, oxygen depletion, and deterioration of aquatic habitats.

Crowded feeding areas can lead to increased competition for food, which can result in aggression, stress, and injuries among the animals. Moreover, it can facilitate the transmission of diseases among animals. The overcrowding may lead to a higher risk of spreading infections, parasites, and pathogens that can negatively impact their health and overall populations.

In addiction, regularly feeding creates a dependency on human handouts. Wild animals may become reliant on these unnatural food sources, neglecting their natural foraging instincts and losing the ability to find food on their own. This can disrupt their natural behaviors and make them less self-sufficient.

For the ecosystems


The availability of an artificial food source can have significant impacts on the reproduction rates of wild animals. In natural ecosystems, the number of animals born and surviving is typically regulated by the availability of food. This helps maintain a balance, ensuring that there is not an excessive concentration of animals in one area. However, when an unnatural food supply becomes readily accessible, wild animals may produce more offspring, leading to population growth that surpasses the carrying capacity of the natural food sources available.

This increase in population can result in several consequences. Firstly, wild animals may venture into adjacent areas in search of food, becoming persistent pests as they disrupt the natural balance of those areas. An example of this can be seen with the deer population in Nara, where tourists feeding them biscuits have led to an enormous number of deer causing problems in the area.

Furthermore, when wild animals are fed in concentrated areas, it can lead to overpopulation of certain species, upsetting the equilibrium of the ecosystem. This disrupts the relationships between plants and animals that rely on the same resources, resulting in habitat degradation and potentially even the spread of invasive species.

An indirect example of this can be observed in Venice, where the abundant food sources from the large amount of rubbish attract gulls. The increased gull population has led to a decrease in other small bird species and necessitated measures to address the resulting problems.

It is important to understand and respect the delicate balance of ecosystems, allowing nature to regulate population sizes based on the availability of natural food sources.

For the human safety

Regular feeding by humans can habituate animals to human presence, leading to increased encounters and potential conflicts. Habituated animals may lose their natural fear of humans, becoming bolder and more aggressive in their attempts to obtain food. This can create safety risks for both humans and animals.
I captured this picture in Cambodia near a temple, where I witnessed an incident involving a girl and a monkey. The girl had a bottle of water in her hand, and upon seeing it, the monkey pursued her until it managed to take the bottle. Similar scenes are not uncommon, and it is well-known that monkeys in other tourist destinations, such as Bali, can become aggressive in their search for food.

It is important to be mindful of our actions and avoid carrying bottles of water, food, or shopping bags in prominent areas frequented by monkeys or other animals. Such items can attract their attention, and they may follow in hopes of obtaining food without exerting much effort. This association can lead to situations where animals become persistent and potentially aggressive in their pursuit of food.

The risk of feeding or getting too close to wild animals extends beyond the potential for physical harm. It’s important to remember that wild animals can carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans. These diseases can include bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic infections.

Examples of zoonotic diseases transmitted by wildlife include rabies, Lyme disease, hantavirus, leptospirosis, and salmonellosis.

Close contact or being bitten by a wild animal increases the risk of disease transmission. Wild animals may carry pathogens in their saliva, feces, urine, or body fluids, and direct contact with these substances can lead to infection.

Even indirect contact with wild animal droppings, urine, or contaminated surfaces can pose a risk of disease transmission. Touching these contaminated surfaces and then touching your face, mouth, or eyes can provide a pathway for pathogens to enter your body.

Don’t pick plants

Plucking plants may be against the law in many protected areas and national parks. These regulations are in place to safeguard the natural environment, preserve biodiversity, and ensure the sustainability of natural resources.

If you have the urge to take something while exploring nature, it is much more beneficial to pick up trash rather than plucking plants or flowers.

Natural areas often host a diverse range of plant species, some of which may be rare, endemic, or endangered. Plucking plants can lead to their decline or extinction, threatening the overall biodiversity and genetic diversity of the ecosystem. Protecting and preserving plant species helps maintain the overall health and resilience of the ecosystem.

Plucking plants often involves damaging their root systems or removing them from their natural habitats. This can result in soil erosion, loss of soil nutrients, and degradation of the surrounding habitat. The removal of plants also disrupts the intricate web of interactions between plants, soil organisms, and other organisms in the ecosystem. In addiction Plucking flowers, fruits, or seeds prevents plants from completing their life cycles, hindering their ability to reproduce and regenerate. This disruption can have long-term consequences for the sustainability of plant populations and the ecosystem as a whole.

Plants play a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance of ecosystems. They provide food, shelter, and habitat for various organisms, including insects, birds, and other wildlife. Removing plants disrupts this delicate balance and can have far-reaching effects on the entire ecosystem.

References

A Framework to Evaluate Wildlife Feeding in Research, Wildlife Management, Tourism and Recreation

Nutritional implications of feeding free-living birds in public urban areas

The abundance of yellow-legged gulls Larus michahellis breeding in the historic centre of Venice, Italy and the initial effects of the new waste collection policy on the population

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