Do I stay or do I go now?

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By Christie Greene

Even seasoned mountain folks can lose their heads when coming face to face with wildlife. With such an assortment of animals at our doorsteps, close encounters require quick thinking. Do we “look big” or run away? Play dead or fight? How about making eye contact? Here is a rundown of what some experts have to say.

If you should encounter a bat that is behaving unusually, added precaution is a must. While only about 1 percent of bats are infected with rabies, the disease is easily spread when saliva enters the skin through a bite or scratch, even if the bat is dead.
Never handle a bat with your bare hands. If your pet catches a bat or you find one in your home, make a reasonable attempt to humanely capture the animal. Take precautions to avoid bites or scratches, like wearing thick gloves. Place the bat in a sealable container and contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife, your local health department or animal control right away. If your pet has had exposure to a bat, call your veterinarian.

Grizzlies were long ago extirpated from the Colorado Rockies, but black bears still live among us and, although the bears are largely peaceful, being prepared for attacks is always wise.  
If you come upon a bear while hiking or biking, talk calmly while slowly backing away. If the bear moves toward you, use clothing or sticks to make yourself look larger. Step off the trail on the downhill side and give the bear an escape route. If a bear attacks, fight back. Use bear spray. Yell and throw rocks and sticks. Wave your arms and show the bear that you are not prey. Do not play dead, and never run. Injuries from bears are very rare and often occur because the bear didn’t have an escape route.

Elk and deer

Responsible for more attacks than bears and mountain lions combined, these seemingly docile ungulates are fast and furious when disturbed.  Be especially alert around rutting and calving periods. When elk or deer lifts their head and looks at you, and especially if the animal steps toward you, back away slowly and leave the area.  If the animal starts to pursue you, get behind a tree or boulder and wait for the animal to leave. Do not run.

Despite their seemingly awkward appearance, moose are faster and more easily roused than other members of the deer family. They face few natural threats and therefore very confidently defend themselves. If you happen across a moose, back away slowly, palms up. If the animal exhibits behaviors such as urinating, smacking lips, putting ears back, or raising hackles, he might be preparing for an attack. If this happens, hide behind a large boulder or tree. Play dead if you are unable to escape.
Mountain lions

As dangerous and formidable as mountain lions appear, they go to great lengths to avoid humans. The likelihood of meeting a lion is very slight, and by giving lions an escape route, they’ll likely take it. If the lion lingers, talk in a low, calm voice.  Make eye contact. Back away slowly, picking up small pets and children. Make yourself appear as large as possible. If you’re attacked, fight back with sticks, rocks or even your bare hands. Do not run.  

While dangerous wildlife encounters may happen, by observing common sense precautions and being properly prepared, outcomes will likely be positive.  Most important, keep calm and keep your distance.