Traveling outside of the Valley for a camping trip is a little like visiting the Land of Oz; you’re bound to run into lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh my!
Arizona is home to mountain lions, tiger salamanders, black bears and more than 800 other animal species, according to Tom Cadden, public information officer for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Arizona has a greater diversity of wildlife species than many people might think – ranking in the top five states in the nation for the number of native bird, reptile and mammal species, Cadden said.
Randy Babb, biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said, “you could bump into black bears, mountain lions, snakes or coyotes anywhere in Arizona. But you shouldn’t fear the wildlife just because the state is full of it.”
The Mogollon Rim, Flagstaff, the White Mountains, Oak Creek Canyon, Prescott and the Kaibab Plateau north of the Grand Canyon are the most popular summer camping destinations in the state, according to Cadden, but none of these regions are more free from danger than another.
“Safety depends on a lot of factors – weather conditions, topography, your preparedness, and the actions you take in locating and maintaining your campsite,” Cadden said.
He recommends calling the managing entity of the area being considered for camping to enquire about current conditions.
Once at the campsite, the best way to prevent an encounter with a wild animal is to never feed – intentionally or unintentionally – animals because “food is the root cause of many human-wildlife conflicts,” Cadden said.
Both Cadden and Babb encourage people to be smart campers. This means always packing food in sealed containers, never bringing food near sleeping areas, stowing away pet food, and disposing of cooking oils and trash far away from the campsite.
Wildlife attacks are extremely rare in Arizona, but they do sometimes occur, Babb and Cadden said.
According to a news release, the Arizona Game and Fish Department received a call about an alleged mountain lion attack near the Snow Drift area in Walker early last month from 30-year-old Prescott resident Andy Bell.
After spotting a mountain lion in the bushes 8 feet away, Bell said he ran toward his home and fell near his truck when the lion jumped on him from behind.
He said he then rolled under the truck and the lion fled from the scene.
Bell said he incurred a 2-inch scrape on his shoulder from where the lion clawed him, and other minor injuries.
Wildlife Services was asked to track the mountain lion in order to lethally remove it from the area, and according to Cadden it was killed later that week.
In a situation like this, knowing how to properly handle a wildlife encounter could be crucial to survival.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department advises campers who encounter a mountain lion to remember to “keep cool, stand your ground, keep your eye on the animal, make yourself look as big as possible, shout, and throw things at the animal,” Babb said, adding that you should never run from a mountain lion because it will elicit a chase response from the animal.
For more information about preventing mountain lion and other wild animal encounters, visit the Arizona Game and Fish website at www.azgfd.gov/urbanwildlife.
Erica Tiffany is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a senior at Arizona State University.