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national park rules

What Should You Do at a Nature Park? Follow the Rules.

So, the kids are on holiday and you’re running out of activities that keep them busy without driving you mad – what do you do? The great outdoors beckons. A nature park offers a break from pollution and educational exposure to natural wildlife for kids (lest they grow up to believe cheese come from plants).

But before you take off on a mini-safari, a primer in nature park etiquette is helpful to more than just future zoologists. We chatted with Deepam Yogi, a wildlife enthusiast and founder of Wildventures, to get the low down on national park etiquette in India.

DOs for a nature park visit

Tone down your outfit.

The forest has its own natural colour palette of browns, greens and greys (barring the occasional pop of colour from flowers). Anything outside these hues might startle the animals and birds you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of, Yogi says.

And while there’s no evidence wearing red will cause an animal to charge you, it’s certainly not a colour for the forest. Neither are any bright colours that reflect light, and avoid stripes, polka dots, and animal prints, all of which cause you to stand out. And wear closed shoes to avoid insect or snake bites – a good rule, even if you’re on a vehicle tour, not a trek.

Life lesson for the kiddo (because it’s not all fun and cheetah-spotting):

Expressing your uniqueness is great, but don’t forget to have a sprinkle of humility. In the end, we all put our khaki pants on one leg at a time.

Step away from the fauna.

Not just for your own safety, but the animals’ safety, too. Even non-predators nursing their young can become aggressive when they sense someone encroaching. And when animals are disturbed they use energy reserves they need for mating, feeding young, or escaping predators.

Every animal has a different safety perimeter — that is, how close it will allow humans to approach before feeling disturbed or threatened — but 50 meters is usually ideal. If you want a closer look, use binoculars or a telephoto lens.

And be wary of an animal that allows you to come close  – it’s likely injured or sick, in which case you should alert nature park authorities immediately.

Life lesson for the kiddo:

You can’t tackle everything head on. Whether it’s a passing elephant, or an irate English teacher, sometimes getting too close means getting burnt. (Or, in the forest, eaten.)

Ghost on the animals.

Your photos should be the only evidence you were ever at the nature park; leave no trace of your visit, but put all your trash into a bag and dispose of it at the appropriate place.

This is more than mere courtesy; plastic and candy wrappers can appear to be food and severely damage animals’ digestive system. More than 1 billion seabirds and mammals die every year from ingesting plastic. And it gets worse – even after an animal dies from plastic ingestion the plastic is released in the environment again during decomposition and can harm another animal.

Life lesson for the kiddo:

Don’t trash other people’s houses. Or ours, for that matter. A rager is all well and good, just be sure to dispose of the evidence.

Tune in.

A tiger or lion spotting is sure to take the visit to a whole new level, but there’s a lot you can experience and learn by just staying silent, listening to bird calls, and peering at a shaking leaf or shrub. Plus, forest guides have a lot of cool titbits to share – like how a male leopard can tell if a female is pregnant by the smell of her droppings, or that a certain species of butterfly mimic their poisonous cousins to stay safe from predators. It may sound silly, but all of this can actually make you healthier.

Life lesson for the kiddo:

Tuning in can be as good (or better) than logging on. Sure, once you return home, your kid might decorate the walls with ketchup while he develops this skill, but in the end, it will be worth it.

Hold it.

Every national park has different facilities/rules as far as relieving yourself/eating is concerned, Yogi says, but almost all do have rules. Whether no food is allowed in the nature park at all, or only at certain points, don’t deviate from the national park rules.

And stick to the bathroom facilities, no matter how much water you’ve pounded back to beat the heat. Human waste can contaminate animals’ watering holes and traveling paths, which can disturb their feeding and movement patterns.

Life lesson for the kiddo:

This one is kind of obvious ….

DON’Ts for a nature park visit

Don’t try to befriend the animals.

Yogi says she has seen visitors feed animals countless times, on the assumption they’re being friendly and will be able to take a closer look at natural wildlife. But it’s an absolute no-no. Offering a monkey some Parle-G or letting a bird feast on your stale bread damages ecosystems more than you know, making animals dependent on humans for food and changing the instinctive hunting and gathering patterns of natural wildlife.

Life lesson for the kiddo:

Learn to say no. You might think you’re letting a friend whine about her love life just the one time, but you are mistaken. Feed that bird, and she will never leave you alone.

Don’t sell your soul for an Insta-worthy photo.

It’s great to capture the beauty wildlife on camera, but you need to do it without disturbing the ecosystem. Don’t go to any lengths for a photograph (including trying to bribe forest rangers to let you enter a national park outside of visiting hours).

Life lesson for the kiddo:

Listen carefully, Junior, because this is an important one: Sometimes, when you’re thinking about how great a moment will look on your Instagram feed or family WhatsApp group, you actually miss the magic unfolding before you. Or the lion charging from behind.

Don’t peer pressure your guide.

Or promise bigger tips for a glimpse of a big cat or rare bird. You may not see what you came to see, and you (and the kids) need to be prepared for that, Yogi says, but there is more to look for and enjoy in the wild. Yogi says her organization sets the expectation straight before a trip so people know there is more to look forward to at a national park visit. Let your guide do his job and don’t push him to bend the rules.

Life lesson for the kiddo:

Jugaad won’t get you through everything, and even when it does the consequences might be grave. Don’t be the guy who ruins things for everyone by sticking his hand in the crocodile’s mouth. Literally.

Don’t seek a souvenir.

What you should and shouldn’t take from the forest is subjective, Yogi says, but for her, if you pocket a leaf or blossom or two from the ground that’s fine. As long as you don’t collect a hundred to take back with you.

Life lesson for the kiddo:

You can’t always take it with you. Some things, experiences, and human beings only get to be enjoyed in a special environment, so savour your time there.

Don’t gawk at forest communities.

You might be intrigued by the tribal communities that sometimes live in nature parks, but express it in a healthy and respectful manner. Groups of people crowding into or clicking photos of their living space is probably an invasion, not innocent curiosity. And while it’s fine to interact with people living in the forest, avoid hand-outs of food and candy, particularly to children, who might harass future visitors if they come to expect gifts, Yogi says.

Life lesson for the kiddo:

And we end with the Golden Rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. Pretty simple, no?

On a parting note, “The forest is an unpredictable place,” Yogi says. “Anything can happen.” Follow the national park rules, stay calm, and be safe!

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