Tips for surviving a wild animal encounter

080930135301-large black bearWith the numerous wildfires, our wildlife are getting displaced, increasing the chances of an “encounter of the worst kind”.

It’s a situation you never want to find yourself in. You’re on vacation, peacefully enjoying the planet’s natural wonders and then – out of nowhere – a wild creature attacks.

While these encounters are usually very rare, Kyle Patterson, spokeswoman at Rocky Mountain National Park, say it’s because people aren’t aware of their surroundings or don’t use common sense.

“Any wildlife can be unpredictable,” she said. “Sometimes you see a visitor who sees an animal and think, ‘they’re close to the road, I’ll just get out and a take a picture.’ This isn’t a zoo where it is fenced off.”

Every animal responds differently to human interaction, but a general rule of thumb for any wildlife encounter is be prepared and look for signs.

“If the animal is reacting to you, you’re too close. All wildlife will give you a sign.  Some species will put their ears back.  Some will scrape their paws.  Some will give verbal cues,” said Patterson.

In order to help you, we’ve come up with a list of tips for surviving all kinds of animal encounters, from bison to sharks.

Even with this list handy, remember that it is illegal to approach wildlife at the national parks and no matter how prepared you are, expect the unexpected.

  • 1Bear

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    North America’s recent rash of bear attacks should be inspiration enough to want to know how to survive a mauling. At least six people in five states have been mauled by black and brown bears recently. There was the Alaskan hunter who was attacked on Saturday, the hikers in Yellowstone National Park who were attacked by a grizzly last Thursday and 12-year-old Abigail Wetherell who was mauled by a black bear on the very same day, while out on an evening jog in northern Michigan.

    “These are two species that you shouldn’t never run from: Black bear or mountain lion,” said Patterson. “You should make yourself big, as much as you can.  Whether it’s taking your jacket and putting it over your head, or picking up sticks or just waving your arms, you need to fight back.”

    Here’s a list of bear attack survival tips from Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources:

    1.) If you see a bear that is far away or doesn’t see you turn around and go back, or circle far around. Don’t disturb it.

    2.) If you see a bear that is close or it does see you STAY CALM. Attacks are rare. Bears may approach or stand on their hind legs to get a better look at you. These are curious, not aggressive, bears. BE HUMAN. Stand tall, wave your arms, and speak in a loud and low voice. DO NOT RUN! Stand your ground or back away slowly and diagonally. If the bear follows, STOP.

    3.) If a bear is charging almost all charges are “bluff charges”. DO NOT RUN! Olympic sprinters cannot outrun a bear and running may trigger an instinctive reaction to “chase”. Do not try to climb a tree unless it is literally right next to you and you can quickly get at least 30 feet up. STAND YOUR GROUND. Wave your arms and speak in a loud low voice. Many times charging bears have come within a few feet of a person and then veered off at the last second.

    4.) If a bear approaches your campsite aggressively chase it away. Make noise with pots and pans, throw rocks, and if needed, hit the bear. Do not let the bear get any food.

    5.) If you have surprised a bear and are contacted or attacked and making noise or struggling has not discouraged an attack, play dead. Curl up in a ball with your hands laced behind your neck. The fetal position protects your vital organs. Lie still and be silent. Surprised bears usually stop attacking once you are no longer a threat (i.e. “dead”).

    6.) If you have been stalked by a bear, a bear is approaching your campsite, or an attack is continuing long after you have ceased struggling, fight back! Predatory bears are often young bears that can be successfully intimidated or chased away. Use a stick, rocks or your hands and feet.

  • 2Elk

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    Migrating elk are known to take over towns, especially this time of year. For example, Estes Park, a popular resort town in the Rocky Mountains hosts nearly 2,000 elk for the summer months, and much of the year. With a population of only 5,858 inhabitants, the town is literally overrun by elk.

    Rocky Mountain National Park also has a large population of elk.  Patterson said the dangerous times are in the spring, when they’re protective of their calves, and the fall mating season, known as the rut. “Sometimes the bulls can be very aggressive,” she said. “During the rut, elk are in big groups.  You want to make sure you’re not in between  the aggressive bull elk and the focus of his attention.”

    That’s why the park takes preventative measures such as closing meadows and sending out teams of volunteers to patrol.

    Here are some tips from The Payson Roundup, a small paper that covers Rim Country in central Arizona, an area that has had its fair share of elk invasions.

    1.) Always keep a safe distance and if driving, stay in your car.

    2.) Never approach a baby calf; they are not abandoned even if the cow is not in sight. The cow is close by or very likely has gone to water and will return. The maternal instinct could produce an aggressive behavior if something might come between her and her calf, so play it safe.

    3.) Elks travel in the reduced light of early morning or late afternoon — so if you want to avoid an elk, don’t go out during dawn or dusk.

  • 3Bison

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    Bison are the largest indigenous land mammal in North America. The bulls can often weigh as much as one ton. Not only are they huge, bison are fast. They can quickly accelerate to speeds up to 35 mph. So if they look majestic and docile out on that plain, just remember bison are beasts and they are much faster than you.

    If you encounter a bison, here are some tips from Canada’s National Park Service:

    1.) If you encounter bison along the roadway, drive slowly and they will eventually move. Do not honk, become impatient or proceed too quickly. Bison attacks on vehicles are rare, but can happen. Bison may spook if you get out of your vehicle. Therefore, remain inside or stay very close.

    2.) If you are on foot or horseback: Never startle bison. Always let them know you are there. Never try to chase or scare bison away. It is best to just cautiously walk away. Always try to stay a minimum of 100 meters (approximately the size of a football field) from the bison.

    3.) Please take extra caution as bison may be more aggressive: During the rutting season (mid July-mid August) as bulls can become more aggressive during this time. After bison cows have calved. Moms may be a little over-protective during this time. When cycling near bison, as cyclists often startle unknowing herds. When hiking with pets. Dogs may provoke a bison attack and should be kept on a leash. On hot spring days when bison have heavy winter coats.

    4.) Use extreme caution if they display any of the following signs: Shaking the head. Pawing. Short charges or running toward you. Loud snorting. Raising the tail.

  • 4Mountain Lion

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    Attacks from mountain lions are very rare, Patterson said, and they’re going to prey on elk and deer–not humans.

    But she said the danger arises when people hike alone or families with children let the kids run ahead and make noises.

    “If a child is running along a trail they can mimic prey,” she said.  This is why they tell visitors to ‘”make like a sandwich” when walking along the trails.

    “Families and adults should think like a sandwich and the parents should be like a piece of bread and the children should be the filling.  Have an adult should be leading the pack and should be in the back.”

    Here is a list of tips for a mountain lion encounter from the conservation advocacy group, The Cougar Fund:

    1.) Be especially alert when recreating at dawn or dusk, which are peak times for cougar activity.

    2.) Consider recreating with others. When in groups, you are less likely to surprise a lion. If alone, consider carrying bear spray or attaching a bell to yourself or your backpack. Tell a friend where you are going and when you plan to return. In general cougars are shy and will rarely approach noise or other human activities.

    3.) Supervise children and pets. Keep them close to you. Teach children about cougars and how to recreate responsibly. Instruct them about how to behave in the event of an encounter.

    4.) If you come into contact with a cougar that does not run away, stay calm, stand your ground and don’t back down! Back away slowly if possible and safe to do so. Pick up children, but DO NOT BEND DOWN, TURN YOUR BACK, OR RUN. Running triggers an innate predatory response in cougars which could lead to an attack.

    5.) Raise your voice and speak firmly. Raise your arms to make yourself look larger, clap your hands, and throw something you might have in your hands, like a water bottle. Again, do not bend over to pick up a stone off the ground. This action may trigger a pounce response in a cougar.

    6.) If in the very unusual event that a lion attacks you, fight back. People have successfully fought off lions with rocks and sticks. Try to remain standing and get up if you fall to the ground.

    7.) If you believe an encounter to be a valid public safety concern, contact your state game agency and any local wildlife organizations.

  • 5Shark

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    While shark sightings are on the rise, shark attacks are still relatively rare. Last year only seven people were killed in shark attacks. Although, in 2011, the number of shark-related deaths was 13. On the off chance you come face to face with Jaws, you should be prepared.

    Here are some shark encounter survival tips from Discovery’s Alexander Davies:

    1.) Don’t panic. If you find yourself face to face with a shark, you’re going to need your wits about you to get away with your life. So keep calm; remember that while sharks are deadly animals, they’re not invincible. Thrashing and flailing is more likely to gain its attention than to drive it away.

    2.) Play dead. If you see a shark approaching, this is a last ditch effort to stave off an attack. A shark is more likely to go after a lively target than an immobile one. But once Jaws goes in for the kill, it’s time to fight — he’ll be as happy to eat you dead as alive. From here on out, you’ll have to fight if you want to survive.

    3.) Fight back. Once a shark takes hold, the only way you’re getting out alive is to prove that it’s not worth the effort to eat you — because you’re going to cause it pain. Look for a weapon: You’ll probably have to improvise. But any blunt object — a camera, nearby floating wood — will make you a more formidable opponent. Often repeated advice has it that a good punch to a shark’s snout will send it packing. In fact, the nose is just one of several weak points to aim for. A shark’s head is mostly cartilage, so the gills and eyes are also vulnerable.

    4.) Fight smart. Unless you’re Rocky Balboa, you’re not going to knock out a shark with a single punch. Not only will a huge swing slow down in the water due to drag, it’s unlikely to hit a rapidly moving target. Stick with short, direct jabs, so you increase your chances of landing a few in quick succession.

    5.) Play defense. Open water, where a shark can come at you from any angle, is the worst position place you can be. Get anything you can to back up against, ideally a reef or a jetty. If there are two of you, line up back to back, so you’ll always have eyes on an approaching attack. Don’t worry about limiting your escape routes- you won’t out swim a shark, better to improve your chances of sending him away.

    6.) Call for backup. Call out to nearby boats, swimmers and anyone on shore for help. Even if they can’t reach you right away, they’ll know you’re in trouble, and will be there to help if you suffer some injuries but escape the worst fate.  Who knows, maybe a group of sympathetic dolphins will help you out – they’re fierce animals in their own right.

    7.) Fight to the end. Giving up won’t make a shark less interested in eating you, so fight as long as you can. If the animal has a hold on you, he’s unlikely to let go. You have to show him you’re not worth the effort to eat.

  • 6Stingray

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    While stingray attacks are not usually deadly, they are painful and warrant close medical attention. With a recent stingray invasion along the Alabama coast, now is an important time to learn about the barb-tailed sea creature. The animals often bury themselves in shallow water, so even if you are just wading in the ocean, you are still at risk of being stung.

    Here are some tips from Jake Howard, a lifeguard at Seal Beach, Calif. on how to handle a stingray encounter:

    1.) Always shuffle your feet when walking out to the surf, sting rays are shy and skitish creatures and will generally flutter away at the first sign of danger. The sting is a self-defense mechanism when they get stepped on or threatened. The Sting Ray Shuffle is your first line of defense.

    2.) If you do feel something soft and squishy under your foot step off of it as quick as possible. I stepped on a sting ray last weekend, but got off it in time that it didn’t get me…Step lightly in other words.

    3.) In the case that you do get stung come to the beach as quick as possible, don’t panic because it will only increase your circulation, thus aiding in the movement of the toxin through your body. Also you want to try and limit anything that may bring on symptoms of shock.

    4.) Go home, or to the nearest lifeguard or fire station to treat it. The wound can vary in pain. I’ve had a woman compare it to child birth and seen full-on tattooed gang bangers cry like little sissys, conversly I’ve seen little girls walk away with relatively little discomfort. Either way it’s not going to be fun. Pretty much the only real thing you can do for the pain is soak the sting in hot water, as hot as you can stand, but don’t go burnin’ yourself. You can also take Advil or something, but no asprin. Asprin thins the blood and allows the toxin to travel easier.

    5.) Soak the foot until it feels significantly better. The pain probably won’t go completely away, but it should feel dramatically better. A little swelling is normal. Be sure to clean the wound as best as possible. If it looks like the sting ray barb is still in your foot see a doctor for treatment. Actually if anything weird at all goes on go see a doctor.

  • I wish I could help you, but I can’t.

    Nobody else can save you, only Jesus Christ can. Trust Jesus Christ of Nazareth today. He loves you so completely!

    Admit that you are a sinner and turn from sin. Believe that Jesus Christ of Nazareth died for you, He was buried and rose from the dead. Through prayer, invite Jesus Christ of Nazareth into your life to become your personal Savior.

    No one is guaranteed a tomorrow and the Bible has predicted the current world events to warn all mankind of the return of Jesus Christ, Who lives forever and ever. There will be no “second chances” once He comes to bring all Christians to heaven for eternity.

    His priceless, yet free to us gift of salvation is NOT something you want to reject, deep down you know you need Him. For YOUR sake, do not delay.

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Feds say falcons recovered; no more chick rescues

After decades of scrambling on the underside of California bridges to pluck endangered peregrine falcon chicks from ill-placed nests, inseminating female birds and releasing captive-raised fledglings, wildlife biologists have been so successful in bringing back the powerful raptors that they now threaten Southern California’s endangered shorebird breeding sites.

As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will no longer permit peregrine chick rescues from Bay Area bridges, a move that they concede will likely lead to fluffy chicks tumbling into the water below and drowning next spring.

“It’s a paradox,” said Marie Strassburger, chief of the federal agency’s division of migratory birds and habitat in Sacramento. “Yes, chicks are cute. I won’t deny that for a second.”

But she said the loss of chicks that fledge from the nest too early is a natural part of life.

Peregrines nest high on cliffs, trees, buildings and bridges because they hunt by diving, at speeds topping 200 mph, at wild birds they like to eat. When fledging, young peregrines fly well and land poorly. On cliffs, there are plenty of easy spots for a crash landing. On buildings, they scramble back onto window sills or ledges when their first flights go awry, or they hit the sidewalk and can be carried back to their nests. But on bridges, with smooth steel or concrete supports, chicks find no perch and often just hit the water.

“We see the loss of a chick by natural causes as an educational moment as this happens in nature all the time,” said Strassburger. “The peregrine falcons on the bridges in the Bay Area just happen to be in a very visible spot so the public is more aware of it.”

The recovery of peregrines, and now their potential threat to other species, underscores the fragile balance of nature that biologists have struggled with in recent years: Saving bighorn sheep in Yosemite National Park meant hunting protected mountain lions; reintroducing gray wolves in the Rockies brought a backlash when ranchers complained they were killing livestock; and bringing golden eagle populations back on California’s Channel Islands nearly devastated the island fox, one of the world’s smallest canines.

The decision to stop saving peregrine chicks is strictly local, says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service migratory bird specialist Alicia King at their Arlington, Virginia headquarters. She said she didn’t know of any other place where this was happening, and there’s no national position. She noted that in many communities the peregrines are beloved and their chicks are treasured.

“But birds sometimes nest in places that are not the best places for them to nest, and while it’s hard to watch, sometimes nature has to take its course,” she said.

No one is suggesting that the drowning deaths of a dozen or so chicks taken from Bay Area bridges is going to tip the entire species back into a risky situation. Nor is anyone suggesting that allowing a few birds to be saved would actually damage the dwindling population of at-risk shorebirds hundreds of miles south.

But there are two very different sentiments about how to proceed.

For wildlife biologist Glenn Stewart, who directs the University of California, Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, allowing baby birds to topple into the choppy, frigid San Francisco Bay and drown is an indefensible approach.

“Yes, peregrines are recovered, but should we let this sometimes vigorously protected and sometimes left-to-drown resource be squandered?” said Stewart, who wrote “Eye to Eye with Eagles Hawks and Falcons” published earlier this year.

And conversely, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it makes no sense to permit chick rescues in one part of California when they are busy having to trap and move them away from threatened species habitat elsewhere in the state.

Thus Stewart was informed this year, as he applied for his annual springtime permit to remove chicks, that this would be his last.

Peregrine falcons were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973; at the time, there were just 11 of the birds known to be living in California and about 100 nationwide. Over the next three decades, independent biologists working with federal and state researchers successfully rescued the species, largely by releasing more than 4,000 captive-raised peregrines in 28 states, but also through meticulous conservation, ranging from chick rescues to incubating and hatching eggs.

Today there are around 2,000 in California, and as many as 10,000 more across the U.S., where they’ve become wildly popular thanks to live, streaming webcams above their nests and annual media accounts of their rescues from New York to Portland, Ore. KathyQ, a peregrine nesting in downtown Indianapolis, has her own Facebook page.

Falcon fans from around the world log in regularly to watch peregrines perched in their nests below bridges or on ledges of tall buildings, commenting excitedly when the 1 ounce chicks hatch, and weeks later, gathering in crowds below as they attempt their first flights. In many places, the birds even have names: Diamond Lil and her mate Dapper Dan have nested on the 33rd floor of the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. building in downtown San Francisco since 2008.

This spring was poignant for Stewart, who began working with peregrines in the 1970s, at a time most thought they would go extinct. For what may well be his last time, in April he plucked four soccer ball-sized chicks from a nest below the Richardson Bay Bridge that spans an inlet in the north end of the San Francisco Bay.

“They look soft and fuzzy, but they have a very dense coat of down, their feet are heavy and they bite,” he said.

The chicks were taken to the University of California, Davis, veterinary school where they were cared for before being moved to a building top where they were released. Costs are covered by the research groups.

Bill Heinrich who directs Interpretive Center at the Boise, Idaho-based Peregrine Fund said after so much effort, it makes no sense to halt rescues, especially since taxpayers no longer cover any of the costs. He hadn’t heard of similar decisions anywhere else, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued no national directives.

“These are the most beautiful birds of prey in the world and also the fastest,” he said. “We spent millions of dollars and decades bringing them back from the brink of extinction. I can understand why they don’t want to pay for their rescues, but it makes no sense not to allow it.”

But in recent years, Fish and Wildlife official Strassburger said, biologists have had to move peregrines from several Southern California breeding areas for endangered gulls called California least terns and threatened Western snowy plovers, sensitive little shorebirds that nest on beaches.

“It’s difficult to think that sometimes we end up in that place, where you recover an endangered predator to the point they become a threat,” said National Wildlife Federation senior scientist Douglas Inkley in Reston, Virginia. “Predators must be part of the picture. The long term answer is that we need to recover those prey species so neither population is at risk.”

Biologist Stewart understands the long-term goals, but says the decision to ban him from saving a handful of chicks from Bay Area bridges next year is “dumbfounding.”

Can A Pretty, Colorful & Harmless Balloon Kill Wildlife?

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Two rams, a class lll & class lV

The bighorn sheep survey is a joint endeavor cooperatively sponsored by the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep, California Dept of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Forest Service Dept.  The census consists of  ground survey crews and helicopter observers.   Are the numbers dwindling?  It is thought that the population is growing after the massive fires we had a few years back.  Why?  Because it cleared the land and mountains of vegetation and the sheep thrive where they can easily see their predators.

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Bighorn sheep habitat.

Bighorn sheep inhabit open areas where the land is rocky, sparsely vegetated, and characterized by steep slopes and canyons. They prefer open ground to better detect predators (cougars!) and allow enough time to reach steep, rocky escape terrain. During winter, these sheep occupy high-elevation, windswept ridges and tend to prefer south-facing slopes where snow melts more readily or they will migrate to lower elevations (4,800 ft ) in sagebrush areas to avoid deep snow and to forage.

Bighorn sheep are gregarious, with group size and composition depending on gender and season.  Sheep ewes generally remain with the same band in which they were born.  Males older than 2 years of age remain apart from females and younger males for most of the year.  During the late fall and winter, the groups come together and concentrate in suitable winter habitat.  Breeding takes place in late fall, generally November and December.  Lambing occurs between late April and early July on safe, precipitous, rocky slopes. Ewes and lambs often occupy steep terrain that provides a diversity of exposures and slopes for escape cover. The lifespan for bighorn sheep males and females averages 8 to 12 years.

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Class lV Ram. Photo through spotting scope.

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A herd bedded-down on south-facing slope.

YOU CAN HELP SAVE A LIFE!  Yes, a harmless balloon DOES kill wildlife. Due to the vibrant colors of the once-released mylar balloons and colorful packaging waste, bighorn sheep are dying.  The vibrant color signals “high-nutrition” to the animal, so they eat it.  They later die from suffocation or toxicity.  Please do not release balloons, mylar balloons, and be respectful of our wonderful planet: leave no trace.  Pick up your leftovers and packaging & other waste, please.  The good habit of taking out whatever you bring in benefits ALL.

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Bighorn sheep habitat.

Taking the Time To Savor

Small Fall

Waterfall by Marybeth Haydon

In the Wilderness Training series I write about experiencing the unforgettable thrill of summiting high, intimidating mountains; the expedition strenuous and against heart, exhausting, demanding and relentless.  All the while experiencing the desperate need for rest, energy, endurance, and physical ability that is beyond what I’m actually capable of. Pressing-in, pressing onward, a can-not-fail attitude was developed as I struggled for every breath; the high-altitude air so very thin and miserly. I’m also humbled at my desperate need for vital union with Him. Despite the pain and difficulty, I joy and revel in His creation as I climb, captivated with the passing vistas and wildlife sightings. He is with me on my journeys, on the pleasant, no-stress leisure hikes as well as the dry, hot, draining struggle to place one-foot-in-front-of-the other journeys.  Metaphorically and physically.  In sickness and in health HE is there for me. Yes, it is very much like that.

The days destination acquired, the mountains deeply fresh air, is moist and sweet-smelling. The cool marine layer seems to enliven the natural scent from the abundant trees, flowers and native shrubs. I simply stand where I am, taking-in the pleasures of the beauty before me. A slight movement in the tree ahead of me steals my attention, my eyes shift to the source as I remain completely still. I don’t move in case this is something I do not want to frighten away. A small bird has poked its head out from the thick leaves and is looking at me. It cocks its head, twitching sharply, nervously side-to-side to get a better view, studying my position as friend or foe. Apparently, I’m not all that threatening, it zips back into its hide, chirping away.         Just how cute was that?

If I didn’t take the time to simply be still and enjoy the environment, I’d miss these cute moments. I think I have actually developed a relationship with the wilderness. Relationships shouldn’t be on the move or busy, which tends to crowd out the intimate times. Relationship is best when relaxed, unhurried, cherished.

Scotts Broom in bloom

Scottsbroom in Bloom by Marybeth Haydon

In my early travels I was nearly trampled by a panicked and really large deer, that if I had not stopped to listen to the unfamiliar sound of its panicked hoof’s clamoring on rock I would have been severely injured. It’s shoulders where higher than my own. One more step, one more stride and I would have been severely injured. I will never forget the eye-to-eye contact we had as it ran past me into the camouflaging brush on the side of the trail.

How many times have I neglected to turn my ear to His Spirit prompting me, am I continuing to listen for Him? Am I hearing Him daily, hourly, minute by minute before I make a decision, or any turn of the chapters of my life? Only He knows what is truly best for me, and what is or isn’t ahead for me and those who my life will touch, however transient.

So, daily, it’s an absolute MUST: I need to double-check myself: Am I actively seeking His will, and staying on-course? Am I listening to His gentle Voice, and importantly, am I submitted to His Voice, obedient? Do I savor His presence, His leading?   It’s time I be more diligent about this before I offend His Spirit in my hurried, distracted processing of daily life.

 

How about you?

 

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