Black Bear. Courtesy/NMG&F
Every spring and summer as the weather warms up, the County begins to receive more calls at the Animal Control Office regarding sightings or encounters with large predators.
What’s a large predator? Large predators in Los Alamos County today include mountain lions, black bears, bobcats and coyotes. These large, powerful predators have lived here for eons, feeding on the plentiful prey and playing an important role in the ecosystem. You may live or play in habitats used by these predators. They can at times be dangerous. However, with a better understanding of these magnificent and important animals, we can learn to coexist.
When People Encounter Large Predators:
Generally, large predators are elusive. They tend to live in remote, rural country like Los Alamos County. Consequently, the number of predator human interactions is increasing. This increase is due to a variety of reasons: more people moving into their habitat, an increase in prey species, drought conditions requiring them to expand their home range, more people using hiking and biking trails in their habitat and a greater awareness of the presence of large predators.
What to Do if You Live in Large Predator Country:
- If you choose to live in large predator country, make sure that you do not contribute to their becoming a problem. To reduce the risk we urge you to follow these simple precautions.
- Closely supervise children whenever they play outdoors. Make sure children are home before dusk and are not outside before dawn. These are the times that large predators are most active.
- Structure landscapes so that it eliminates hiding cover for predators. You do not have to remove all vegetation but enough so you can detect a predator if it comes into your yard. Make it difficult for them to approach unseen.
- Install outside lighting, preferably with motion sensors. Light areas where you walk so you can see a large predator.
- Close off open spaces below porches and decks.
- Planting non-native shrubs and plants often will encourage prey species to come onto your property. Predators follow prey.
- Roaming pets are easy prey. Bring them in at night. If they must stay out, confine them to a kennel with a secure roof. Do not feed pets outside where they or their food can attract predators or other small mammals like raccoons which predators prey upon.
- Store all garbage securely.
Most predators with residential areas within their habitat do not cause any damage. If a predator doesn’t find abundant food, it will move on.
What to Do if You Meet a Large Predator:
There are no definite rules about what to do if you meet a large predator. In most cases, the animal will detect you first and will leave the area. Attacks are rare compared to the number of encounters. However, if you do encounter one, here are some suggestions. Remember: Every situation is different with respect to the animal, the terrain, and the person.
- Stay Calm – If you see a predator that hasn’t seen you, calmly leave the area. As you move away, talk out loud to let the animal know of your presence.
- Stop – Back away slowly while facing the predator if you can do so safely. Avoid direct eye contact. Don’t run as this might stimulate its instinct to chase and attack. Give it plenty of room to escape.
- Do all you can to appear larger – Raise your arms and open your jacket if you are wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they don’t panic and run.
- Never Approach – Wild animals are unpredictable, however, they will usually avoid a confrontation unless pushed into one.
- Watch for young – Coming between a female and her young can be dangerous. If a young animal is nearby, try to move away from it, being alert for others that might be around.
- Convince it you’re not prey – If the animal approaches closer or behaves aggressively, arm yourself with a large stick, throw rocks at it, and speak louder and more firmly to it. Convince the predator that you are dominant and a danger to it.
- Fight back –If a predator does attack, fight back aggressively. Use any possible objects such as rocks, sticks, backpacks, caps, jackets or even your bare hands.
Who Can You Call?
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is responsible for managing, conserving and protecting wildlife within the state. If you have a potentially life threatening situation with a large predator, or if an injury occurs, please contact the Department of Game and Fish, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the phone number listed below. After hours, contact the Los Alamos Police Department or the New Mexico State Police.
Sightings or encounters with large predators in Los Alamos County are not that uncommon and you are not required to report them.
New Mexico Game and Fish Department Main Office, 1 Wildlife Way, Santa Fe, NM 87507, (505) 476-8000, www.wildlife.state.nm.us