Dangers of desert animals exaggerated

rattlesnakeHe carried a gun every time he went for a walk around his neighborhood.

“Why,” I asked. “Are their muggers hiding in the bushes?”

“No, it is to protect me from rattlesnakes, coyotes, bobcats and peccaries,” he exclaimed. He related that rattlesnakes were dangerous because they would advance toward a person so they could strike. Peccaries will attack people, particularly if the peccaries have babies. Bobcats are killers and won’t hesitate lashing out at humans. And, of course, everyone knows that coyotes kill people.

My wife and I were in Scottsdale, Arizona, visiting relatives and I must confess I was surprised that the neighbor felt he needed protection from such animals. The man was healthy and over six feet in height. He appeared physically capable and was highly educated.

I proceeded to tell him how I was once surrounded by 20 peccaries in the backyard of a Tucson residence. Although the recently-born peccaries stayed back, every adult peccary pushed their nose up against my skin to evaluate the stranger in their midst.

The homeowner had also released their black Labrador into the back yard with me. The dog and peccaries spent at least 15 minutes sniffing each other without ever so much as a growl or snap. (Peccaries are smelly animals which must provide an intense experience for the Labrador.) The peccaries were wild though quite accustomed to traveling around Tucson neighborhoods.

“Well, the peccaries around here don’t like people,” he replied after hearing my story. When I asked if he or his neighbors had ever been attacked he said “Not yet.”

I told him about the bobcat that regularly came past our house in Palm Springs. We have seen it eating cottontails and ground squirrels in the garden. He warned me that bobcats can overpower a human so I had better keep my distance. Had he ever heard of a bobcat attacking a person around his neighborhood? He had not, at least not yet. Not surprisingly, the bobcats in our Palm Springs neighborhood have never attacked a person.

I asked him when was the last time a coyote attacked a person in Scottsdale. He couldn’t remember when but was sure that it must have happened. Besides, with his handgun he didn’t need to worry about it anyway.

“Have you or anyone in your neighborhood been bitten by a rattlesnake?” I queried. “No, but we have had some real close calls,” he said. “I kill every rattler I see.” I told him how my neighbors and I see several rattlesnakes each year in our neighborhood. No one has been bitten and I can’t remember any close calls.

The man did not tell me how he went about killing the rattlesnakes. I wondered whether or not he shot them and, if he did, where all the fragments went after the bullet hit a rock or street surface.

After reflecting on our conversation, I concluded that the most dangerous animal in the neighborhood was not a coyote, bobcat, rattlesnake or peccary, but the man walking around with a loaded firearm.

Cornett is a desert biologist and author of Rattlesnakes: Answers to Frequent Questions.

 

This article first appeared at http://www.desertsun.com

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