In my previous article “Wildlife Encounters – Part I: Rattlesnakes“, I briefly mentioned some of the furry creatures I’ve encountered in the past month, to remind you I wrote:
In just the past month I’ve enjoyed close encounters with several deer, six grey fox, javelina and bobcat. Running before sunrise one morning my headlamp illuminated cat paw prints that were as large as the palm of my hand on a little used trail within five miles of my house (we do have mountain lion in my area but I’ve never seen one in person).
Most wild animals shy away from human contact but conflicts can and do occur. Common causes are when humans get too close to the young, wildlife gets “cornered” so they can’t easily escape or when wildlife becomes too accustomed to the presence of people, often near where we live or recreate.
Although it’s hard to cover every animal our readers might encounter, the following animals are common in several popular trail running areas.
Also known in some regions as cougar, puma, catamount or panther.
- Run or hike in groups
- Make noise when running (those annoying bells aren’t just for bears)
- Keep dogs on a leash (roaming pets are easy prey for a hungry mountain lion)
If you encounter a mountain lion:
- Do not approach the animal. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
- Stay calm and speak loudly and firmly.
- Do not run from a mountain lion. Running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase.
- Stand and face the animal. Make eye contact.
- Appear larger by raising your arms or opening your jacket if you are wearing one. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly. The idea is to convince the lion that you are not easy prey and that you may be a danger to it.
- Maintain eye contact and slowly back away.
- Fight back if attacked. Many potential victims have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, bare hands and/or handheld water bottles.
- Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the animal.
Bobcat are not considered a threat to human safety except in rare cases when they have rabies or are extremely aggressive.
If you encounter a bobcat:
- Scare it off with loud noises
- If close enough squirt water from your handheld bottle at it’s face
- Stand and face the animal. Make eye contact.
- Appear larger by raising your arms or opening your jacket if you are wearing one.
- Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back.
- Wave your arms slowly.
Black bears are top-level predators and capable of killing or seriously injuring humans. Although uncommon, black bear attacks on humans occasionally occur. Black bears should always be considered unpredictable and potentially dangerous. A black bear will usually detect you and leave the area before you notice, unless the bear has been conditioned to people and their food.
If you encounter a black bear:
- Alter your route to avoid a bear in the distance.
- Make yourself as large and imposing as possible if the bear continues to approach. Stand upright and wave your arms, jacket or other items.
- Make loud noises, such as yelling, whistles, and loudly clapping your hands together.
- Do not run and never play dead.
- Give the bear a chance to leave the area.
- If the bear does not leave, stay calm, continue facing it, and slowly back away.
Coyotes are curious, clever and adaptable. While coyotes tend to travel and hunt alone or in pairs, they can form groups where food is abundant. Take caution when running with your dog(s), coyotes may consider large or loud dogs to be a threat to their territory and become aggressive toward those dogs. Coyotes have been known to lure free roaming dogs away from their owners to attack and may attack smaller dogs on longer retractable leashes.
If you encounter a coyote
- Make loud noises.
- Shout and clap your hands in a loud manner.
- Wave your hands or objects like sticks and branches.
- Throw small stones.
- Use a commercial repellent like Mace (if you carry which is a good idea when running in typical trail running terrain), if necessary, on bold animals that refuse to leave.
Though not nearly as common as mountain lion, black bear, bobcat or coyote, javelina are prevalent in central to southern Arizona, parts of southern California and southern Texas. Javelina occasionally bite humans, but incidents of bites are almost always associated with people providing the javelina with food. Javelina can inflict a serious wound. Defensive javelina behavior may include charging, teeth clacking, or a barking, growling sound. Javelina may act defensively when cornered, to protect their young, or when they hear or smell a dog. Dogs and coyotes are natural predators of javelina, and they can seriously hurt or kill each other. Note: when javelina are in your area be aware that they can inadvertently attract mountain lions, because mountain lions prey on javelina.
If you encounter a javelina
- Scare off animals by making loud noises.
- Throw small rocks in their direction.
- If the animal is cornered back away from the situation and allow it to leave on its own.
- If you see javelina while running with your dog, avoid going near the javelina and quickly take your dog in a different direction.
While most wildlife encounters are innocent and result in little more than a photo opportunity be aware that wildlife that can be aggressive toward humans and dogs. Knowing what to do when confronted is your best opportunity to continue your run and have a great story to tell your friends or family when you finish.
If you or your dog do by chance suffer a wild animal bite take it very serious regardless of the size. Wildlife can carry many different diseases including rabies and distemper.
Information courtesy of the Arizona Game and Fish Department
Photo credits: black bear, bobcat, mountain lion, javelina, coyote.