Coronado National Forest and the Arizona Game and Fish Department remind outdoor recreationists that the onset of summer means changed conditions across the Forest.
Officials note that as temperatures warm, vegetation is greening up and water is becoming scarce on the 16 “Sky Island” mountain ranges that compose the Coronado. As a result, wildlife movements and patterns are altered, a change which requires renewed situational awareness by outdoor enthusiasts.
Wildlife that becomes habituated to human presence lives in a less natural state which can lead to conflicts with humans and problems for both humans and wildlife. Visitors are encouraged to observe their surroundings, recreate safely, and “keep wildlife wild” by avoiding interaction with wild animals.
Visitors should be aware that thick vegetation provides cover for many wildlife species, warming temperatures may drive wildlife to cool resting spots, and surface water may attract birds and animals.
Potentially hazardous situations may include those involving:
- Rabies – is a naturally occurring disease which infects a variety of mammal species and is transmitted primarily through bites by infected animals. It is transmittable to humans and poses a severe health risk. Each year rabid animals are found in various parts of the state. A fox exhibited aggressive behavior last week in Sabino Canyon, and Wednesday afternoon a hiker was nearly bitten by a suspected rabid fox on the Miller Creek Trail on the eastern side of the Rincon Mountains. There have been 51 confirmed cases of rabies in Arizona this year, 34 in southeast Arizona. Foxes, skunks and bats are the most common carriers.
Rabies affects the infected animal’s brain and therefore causes erratic behavior. Forest visitors are encouraged to watch for unusual behavior in mammals. These behaviors may include staggering, stumbling, aggressive movements, and nocturnal animals being active during daylight hours. Rabid animals often produce a great deal of saliva. Animals which are seen exhibiting erratic behavior during summer daylight hours should be avoided and reported at the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center during business hours (5700 N. Sabino Canyon Road,  749-8700). Sightings should also be reported to the Arizona Game and Fish Department at (623) 236-7201. After hours reports should be made through the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s 24-hour number (800) 352-0700.
- Venomous creatures – snakes, centipedes, scorpions and other creatures will seek shade during the daylight hours to escape the heat. Always be aware of where you put your feet and hands, and avoid cracks, crevices, areas under rocks and places you can’t see. Also know that this type of wildlife tends to be more active around dusk and at night, but can be encountered at any time.
- Black bears – generally avoid interaction with humans. They will aggressively defend their young. Human food and garbage become attractants that bring bears into contact with people, and they may become “habituated” to the point that attaining the food or garbage is worth risking human interaction. Maintain a clean picnic area or campsite. Use bear-proof food and trash containers where provided, such as locking food boxes provided in developed campgrounds. Otherwise lock all food and trash out of sight and smell range of bears. Don’t take clothing used while cooking into tents, or other items with strong fragrances such as toothpaste or lotions. If approached by a bear, back away to maintain a safe distance.
- Bees – these important pollinators will fiercely defend hives. Africanized bees are more aggressive than other bees, however it is virtually impossible to identify one type from another in the field. It is best to assume that any bees encountered are Africanized. Swarming or foraging bees on the move typically will not attack. Those defending their hive and queen will pursue any threat. Bees build hives in dark places which may include crevices in rocks and trees, caves, or underground holes. Watch for bee activity around such areas and avoid them if bees are detected. If attacked, seek shelter, cover your head and protect your airways.
- Mountain lions – are usually secretive and prefer to avoid people. Chances of encountering mountain lions are rare, except in locations like Sabino Canyon where they are becoming habituated to people. Lions are top-level predators capable of inflicting injury on humans, do not approach them. If a lion is encountered, stay calm and speak loudly and firmly. Do not run, as it may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase. Stand and face the animal, raise your arms or open your jacket to look large, and slowly back away. Mountain lion sightings in or near Sabino Canyon and the Santa Catalina Mountains should be reported at the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center during business hours (5700 N. Sabino Canyon Road,  749-8700). Lion sightings should also be reported to the Arizona Game and Fish Department at (623) 236-7201. After hours reports should be made through the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s 24-hour number (800) 352-0700.
- Prickly plants – many of the plants in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts have thorns or spines for protection from wildlife and weather. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid contact with them. Cholla cactus segments can be removed with a pocket comb.
- Heat-related illness – as summer approaches daytime temperatures will rise and relative humidity levels will drop. Visitors to the lower elevations on the Forest are advised to avoid strenuous activity during the heat of the day, and to carry plenty of drinking water to stay hydrated.