Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wild Animal Attack — Part 1: Avoidance

In the warm and fuzzy world of some folks, wild animals all have big moist brown eyes, cute noses, and a cuddly personality. But that doesn’t exactly square with reality. Take, for example, the incident involving Mark Reynolds, a 35-year-old guy who went out for a mountain bike ride in California in January 2004, and was later found dead and partly eaten by a cougar (mountain lion). Nothing warm and fuzzy about it.

Of course, the warm and fuzzy crowd will claim that was an anomaly. Well, try telling that to the family of the 41-year-old Arkansas woman who was killed in her own front yard by a cougar in May 2003.  Or the incident in Colorado in 1999 when a 3-year-old boy went missing and was later found to have been dragged away and killed by a cougar.

I could go on and on. The list is really pretty long. And that’s just cougars. What about bears, or moose, or bison, or coyotes, or …? Let’s pause momentarily for a dose of wildlife reality. There are lots of wild animals that will attack a human, sometimes with fatal results. It does no good to play the denial game. The only good thing we can do is learn the truth and then figure out what to do if we are ever in a violent confrontation with a wild animal.

The best way to avoid problems with wildlife is to use common sense. Be aware of what’s around you, what kind of animals you are likely to encounter, and the danger they pose.

Avoidance is the best defense. Keep your distance, and take steps to prevent attracting wildlife into your camp. This includes:
  • Keep a clean camp. 
  • Thoroughly wash all cooking utensils after use. 
  • Seal uneaten food in airtight containers stored in bear-proof canisters, or suspend it from a bear wire away from sleeping areas.
  • Treat garbage just as you would treat food — either store it in bear-proof containers or hang it from a bear wire away from the campsite until you can haul it out of the area.
  • Do not take food into a tent.
  • Do not sleep in the same clothes you cooked dinner in. In fact, don’t even take those clothes into the tent with you.
  • Remove pet food from the area. Pet food attracts bears directly and can draw the small wildlife that is prey for cougars.
  • Never feed wild animals such as deer, raccoons or squirrels that can attract cougars.
Even after you do all that, be prepared for whatever might happen. In my book, part of being prepared is carrying defensive “tools” that can range from firearms, to a substantial knife, to a club, to deterrents such as pepper spray, to whatever you can lay your hands on as you fight for your life.

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