Lions, Tigers, and Bears: Wildlife and Your Wild One

(This article is Part One: Large Predators)

It can happen when you least expect it. You're out for a hike, then surprise! You're face to face with a mountain lion, and your fierce, fifteen-pound companion is barking like a maniac and spoiling for a fight.

Or maybe you're enjoying a fine desert morning, when a hiss warns you that you're about to step on a rattlesnake.

Wildlife is everywhere — even more so as the human population continues to grow and expand into territory that wild animals are used to thinking of as their own. I mean, nobody told the animals that condos were going up there.

And to compound the problem, different wild animals present different kinds and levels of threat to you and your dog. Not only that, but a technique that works with one kind of animal may prove disastrous with another.

So what do you do? How do you keep yourself and your Jack wildlife-safe?

First, Know Your Wildlife

It pays to know what sorts of critters you may encounter in your adventures. Some of the most common animals that can prove a threat include:

Mountain lions

Image CC0 by skeeze, via Pixabay

Mountain lions are a big problem for pets in a lot of areas. According to a study by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, 52 percent of the animals in a study sample had snacked on house pets — that is, cats and dogs.

Mountain lions (also called cougars and pumas) are abundant in the Western part of the Americas, from northwestern Canada all the way down throughout Central and South America to the southern tip of Argentina. Many encounters happen while out hiking, but in some areas, mountain lions have ventured into populated areas to hunt as well.

Image CC BY-SA 3.0 by Kokosdieb via Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Hughan of the DFW recommends pet owners keep cats inside, and keep dogs leashed when outside. When you're out walking, keep a close eye out around, behind, and — yes — above you. It also helps to hike in a group or with a friend.

If you see a mountain lion, pick up your dog. But if the mountain lion sees you, don't bend down for the dog. This may trigger the mountain lion's prey instinct.

Attacks are rare — about six a year. But if you run into a mountain lion, here's what the National Park Service recommends:

  • Stand tall. A mountain lion often doesn't recognize a standing human as prey.
  • This is not true for children and pets, though. So be watchful.
  • Remain calm. Do not turn your back and run. Do not bend or crouch.
  • If it approaches, make yourself larger. Spread your arms, especially if you have a jacket to spread out, too.
  • Wave your arms and speak in a loud, calm, firm voice.
  • If that doesn't scare it off, throw stones, branches, and anything else you have at hand. Show it you are not prey and may hurt it.

With a mountain lion, the best approach is to show it you're not worth the fight.

Coyotes

Like mountain lions, coyotes are ubiquitous. You can find them everywhere in the United States and Canada. They thrive in urban as well as rural environments. They're a major predator of housepets, and they can be a danger to children, as well.

Coyotes don't typically attack adult humans. This is because they're not that large — about the size of a medium to large dog. But due to increased contact with people, a lot of them no longer fear humans. Attacks have occurred, particularly in the Los Angeles County area of California.

Image CC 2.0 by Jitze, via Wikimedia Commons

As with a mountain lion, if you find yourself face to face with a coyote, the best approach is to try to scare it off. CoyoteHuntingInfo recommends shouting, waving your arms, and throwing things. Maintain eye contact, and show it you aren't prey.

If you're walking in coyote country, keep your dog on a short leash. This is especially true if you walk at night, as this is when coyotes hunt for food. A

And if you see a coyote, pick up your dog.

Bears

Bears live mostly in the northern hemisphere: in Asia, the Americas, and Europe. Most would rather leave you alone, though some, like brown bears and polar bears, can be aggressive. WikiHow has detailed information about different kinds of bears and their behaviors. You can find it here.

With bears, preventing an encounter is the first line of defense. Backpacker.com recommends the following:

  • Keep your dog on a leash. Attacks have happened because a loose dog surprised a bear and brought it back to the human.
  • Be aware that pet food and waste smells can attract bears.

Unlike with mountain lions and coyotes, do not try to scare a bear away. Lifehacker recommends the following:

If you surprise a bear, it may run away. On the other hand, it may attack. If it attacks, play dead. Fall to the ground and protect your head and neck.

Image: Public Domain, by Mike Kaplan, via the U.S. Air Force

Sometimes a bear may see you from a distance and decide to investigate. If you see a bear moving purposefully toward you from a distance, stop moving toward it, and go back the way you came. Don't panic, scream, or run away, as this may cause it to chase you. And bears can run up to 40 miles per hour.

Once the bear is out of sight, wait 20 minutes, then go a different way, making a lot of noise as you go.

If a bear is approaching from close up, don't make eye contact. Back away, talking in a slow, monotone voice, and waving your arms slowly. But if a bear charges, stand your ground.

Attacks are rare. All the same, if you're out walking in bear country, have your bear spray or pepper spray handy.

Be Wildlife Safe

It's possible to coexist peacefully with wildlife, and a lot of wildlife safety is common sense. Don't hike alone. Be aware. Keep your dog under control and on a leash. And remember, in the worst-case scenario, whether you should stand your ground or try to make an escape.

Featured Image CC0 by Pille Kirsi, via Pexels