Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Be Aware And Be Safe!

When we first relocated to the southwestern desert states, we were on high alert for encountering rattlesnakes. With time it became a natural routine to scan ahead of our footsteps. We were advised not to step over logs or large rocks when hiking, but to step up on them to see the other side before stepping down.  If you encounter a snake, stand still and then slowly back away. If bitten, I've read that the only thing you should do is stay as calm as possible and wrap the injured limb with a bandage to reduce the swelling. You have 14 hours to get to a medical facility for anti-venom.
It's advised when hiking with dogs to keep them on a leash, so that whatever they kick-up doesn't come running after them, as they run back to you!!! We don't keep our dogs on a leash for a hike, as that seems to defeat the fun, but I do try to keep them on the path. With smaller dogs I would be more likely to keep them on a leash and close to me for fear of them being grabbed by a predator.
One of the large threats in the southwest desert are javalina. We have been repeatedly warned as to their ill tempers and viciousness! They roam in packs with as many as 20! The Arizona Game and Fish Department describes them as being active from dusk to dawn and on cooler days. During the heat of the day they bed down in the shade. They tend to travel up washes. They are nearsighted which accounts in part for their willingness to attack first. If you spot them ahead of your walk, slowly back away. If they charge, you are to stomp your feet and made as much noise as possible. No problem, as jumping about screaming would come naturally to me! I'm considering getting an air horn to carry on desert walks. I considered carrying pepper spray. The Arizona Game and Fish Department website recommends carrying a spray bottle with vinegar or a weakened amonina solution for spritzing in the air as a deterrent to an approaching javalina, but not to spray them in the face! It sounds like they will run if not cornered.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department website reports that most incidents where a bite from a javalena is sustained by a human is the result of people feeding them. It is recommended that food and water not be placed out for them, as mountain lions are their natural predators and you will be attracting them as well! Although I have no doubt that javalena can be as vicious as any wild animal with big teeth when threatened, I do believe their reputation is exaggerated. Here are two incidents we know of since being in Arizona. A woman at our r.v. park had her Golden Retriever tied outside her camper. When she stepped out to get her dog she noticed a javalena under the camper.  Neither her or the dog were attacked. When in Tombstone around 4:00 p.m. and planning to walk about 3 blocks to a restaurant on the edge of town, we were seriously warned by a local that we should not walk the distance, but get in our car and drive it, because of the vicious javalena! Given the time of day and being on a city street we felt assured that a javalena attack was not likely and made our walk! When joking with the restaurant staff about the warning, we were told that that javalena sometimes are on the street at night and that at most we might get a scare as one runs by! I think the time of day of one's walk in the desert might be the biggest safety factor in not having an encounter. As a precaution against encounters in the r.v. park, we upgraded our camper's outside light to be bright enough to light up the yard area. We wouldn't want to let the dogs out in the evening or early morning hours right into a group of javalena!  
Mountain lions are said to be elusive by those that hunt them and that without a hunting dog to let you know where they are hidden you would walk right by one. If a mountain lion does decide to consider you as dinner, you only have one option and that is to fight for your life! The Arizona Game and Fish Department website advises that you make yourself as big as you can and to make lots of noise. Do not crouch down and do not run! Running can excite a cat into the predator and prey mode, when it might have let you escape otherwise. Mountain lions can not back up, so you must give them a chance to come forward enough to turn around. I saw on a nature show where a small built older woman saved her husband from a Mountain lion by attacking as fiercely and relentlessly as she could with big stick. I think encounters with them like most predators are going to fall within the dusk to dawn range.
We have had some warnings about coyotes, but I guess I personally don't feel that they are a threat unless you have a small child or pet that's unattended or the coyotes are starving. One r.v. park we were at was surrounded by desert, had a dry creek bed that followed the side of the park where the dumpster was located, and coyotes could be heard very close to the park. I was wary of the dusk to dawn hours for trips to the dumpster, and was watchful of the dogs when being let out during the dim light hours.
This is the San Pedro River in southern Arizona. Are you confident enough in your knowledge of alligators and crocodiles to allow your dogs to play in or near the water down south?
We all know there are alligators in Florida and Louisiana, but did you realize that they are said to be in all the southern states clear to the southern tip of Texas! Alligators are found in fresh water, but also brackish water such as where rivers meet the ocean. Here are their locations according to Wikipedia:  All of Florida and Louisiana. Southern Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.  Coastal South and North Carolina. The southeast corner of Oklahoma. Southern tip of Arkansas.  East Texas to the southern tip.   There are always the exceptions to the general rule, though, in that a few alligators have been found in the Rio Grande River almost as far north as El Paso. Crocodiles are in Mexico starting about 60 miles south of the U.S. border!  They also share habitat with alligators in southern Florida. Now we know!