Spring is here again and that means more wildlife out, moving, and potentially wandering into your yard. The best thing to do when you encounter wildlife is to take a picture and share it! But what do we do if that wildlife might be a danger to us?
Most of our wildlife is either harmless or beneficial, but a few can sometimes be a danger to people and their pets. Don’t leave pets out when you are not home, especially small dogs or cats overnight. If your children are playing outside, join them. If you hike or do other activities outside in remote areas, bring friends and your dog for added safety.
Here’s what to do if you find yourself in a scary wildlife encounter.
If you hear a rattlesnake, the best thing to do is head away from the sound. Rattlesnakes do not chase people and prefer not to bite you. It takes a lot of energy to produce venom and biting a human could get them killed. In California, ONLY rattlesnakes are dangerous. None of our other snakes are venomous. All snakes help control rodents and can be food for eagles.
DON’T attack and try to kill a rattlesnake. Many people get bit by doing this, and people have been bitten by dead rattlesnakes. Their venom is still active for a while after they die. Most bites victims are adult men attempting to harass or kill a snake.
DO back away slowly from a snake or walk out of its path. Moving towards a snake may startle it and cause it to lunge. To prevent rattlesnakes from entering your yard, make sure there isn’t trash or debris left out. Anyplace that could house rodents can also bring rattlesnakes. All snakes are cold-blooded, so they also enjoy warm places outside, like under old sheet metal or car parts. Keeping your yard free of trash and debris is the best prevention.
If you are bitten, don’t panic. Keep the bite wound below your heart, try to avoid activity, and get help immediately. Snake bites are extremely rare. In fact, you are 9 times more likely to be struck by lightning than bitten by a venomous snake!
Coyotes are always around us. Even downtown Los Angeles has a coyote population. They are the most common large predator in most of the United States and are extremely smart, making them highly adaptable. In spring, they are out trying to mate and raise young. Young, male coyotes are generally the most likely to be encountered at this time.
DON’T attempt to attack or feed coyotes. Coyotes are wild animals and habituating them to people by feeding or interacting with them can lead to serious injuries. Also, do not attack a coyote. Coyotes are important parts of our natural environment. It is best that they stay wild and are watched from a great distance.
DO make yourself loud and intimidating if you run into a coyote. Coyote packs are less frequent, and if they do form a pack it is usually a small family group. If you are hiking or working in a remote area, stay in a group of two or more people. If shouting and waving arms doesn’t work to chase an aggressive or agitated coyote away, throw small rocks or sticks as a last resort.
If you are bitten by a coyote, get to a hospital immediately. Most coyotes don’t carry rabies, but some do. Let your doctor know it was a wild animal that bit you, your family member, or your pet so they can administer rabies prevention vaccines.
Bobcats, like coyotes, are very common small predators in Southern California. They mainly eat rodents and birds. They are less common in urban areas than coyotes, but are found throughout Pala. Encounters with bobcats are very rare, as they are active mainly at dawn and dusk. During cool weather, though, they may be found out during the day.
DON’T attempt to feed or interact with a bobcat. The most common way to encounter one is if they wander into a garage or shed. The best thing to do in this scenario is to open the door and leave. They should wander back after you are gone. Bobcats rarely attack people, though they may take small pets or livestock but this is usually rare. Keep small animals indoors when you are not around.
DO make yourself loud and intimidating if you run into an aggressive bobcat. Bobcats will usually run off or hide. It’s also a smart idea to keep pets on leashes so they do not chase after a bobcat.
It’s common for people to confuse bobcats and mountain lions. Bobcats are small, roughly the size of a large housecat to medium sized dog (10 to 30 lbs. is average). Mountain lions (also called cougars or pumas) are much less common than bobcats and are much larger, being the size of an adult human or large dog (up to 200 lbs.) Bobcats have no tail and are spotted or mottled with pointed ears. Mountain lions are a nearly uniform tan or orange color with long tails. There are no confirmed cases of black mountain lions, but they may appear very dark at night or in shade. Mountain lion paw prints are roughly the size of an adult hand.
Mountain lions are large predators and, although it is extremely rare, they can kill an adult person. There are usually less than two mountain lion attacks in the state of California on people per decade. You are thousands of times more likely to be hit by a car than attacked by a mountain lion. Of those attacks, almost all of them are people running or hiking alone. Do not hike alone in areas where mountain lions are active. Mountain lions are most likely to be found along rivers and creeks in Pala, or in areas that deer frequent.
DON’T attempt to interact with a mountain lion if you come across one. It is also best to remain calm and still. Don’t run! Running can trigger the natural response to chase. Don’t hike alone.
DO make loud noises, wave your arms, and attempt to appear bigger and scarier if you run into a mountain lion that is acting aggressive. Aggressiveness would include walking towards you, snarling, or creeping like a housecat. Keep pets nearby and on leashes. If a mountain lion doesn’t retreat, the last resort is to throw rocks or sticks.
If you follow these simple rules, you will stay safe when encountering the beautiful and beneficial animals that live in and around Pala. Contact the Pala Environmental Department (760-891-3510) and talk to our wildlife biologist if you want to report a sighting or if you have questions.