PHOENIX, ARIZ. – A mountain lion that attacked a 10-year-old boy in the Tonto National Forest northeast of Phoenix on Saturday has tested positive for rabies, but state wildlife and health officials say such incidents are uncommon.
“Mountain lion attacks on humans in Arizona are extremely rare, as are documented incidents of rabies in mountain lions,” says Randy Babb, information and education program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Mesa region.
In Saturday’s incident, a family was taking a break from riding their off-highway vehicles near Bloody Basin Road and the Verde River when the mountain lion reportedly walked into their camp and attacked the boy, scratching him on the back. A family member shot the lion, which was turned over to the Arizona Game and Fish Department on Sunday for transport to the Arizona State Health Laboratory. The lab confirmed on Sunday evening that the lion was rabid.
The boy and other family members who were exposed to the infected lion will start a series of rabies shots as a health precaution.
Statistics from the Arizona Department of Health Services show that this is only the second documented case of rabies in a mountain lion in Arizona in the past nine years.
Still, officials advise people to be aware of their surroundings and nearby wildlife activity when recreating outdoors, and to keep their distance from wildlife and make sure their pets are vaccinated.
In Arizona, the wildlife in which rabies most commonly occurs are bats, skunks and foxes, but any mammal can contract the disease.
“So far, 14 animals—seven skunks, three foxes, one bat, one coyote, one coatimundi, and now, one mountain lion, have tested positive for rabies at the Arizona State Health Laboratory thus far in 2008, “ says Dr. Elisabeth Lawaczeck from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Rabid animals may show unusual behavior or appear unstable. Rabid carnivores, such as skunks, foxes, bobcats and coyotes may become aggressive and attempt to bite people, pets and livestock. Wild animals exhibiting unusual behavior should be reported to the Arizona Game and Fish Department or local animal control officials.
Examples of unusual behavior include: wild animals that show no fear of people and pets; nocturnal animals that are active during daylight hours; and bats found on the ground, in swimming pools or that have been caught by a pet.
The Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Game and Fish Department recommend the following precautions to reduce a chance encounter with a rabid animal:
* Keep people and pets away from wild animals. Do not pick up, touch, or feed wild or unfamiliar animals, especially sick or wounded ones. If someone has been bitten or scratched, or has had contact with the animal, report it immediately to animal control or health officials.
* Do not “rescue” seemingly abandoned young wild animals. Usually, the mother will return. If the mother is dead or has not returned in a reasonable time frame (usually several hours), call the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
* Vaccinate all dogs and cats against rabies. Pets should be kept in a fenced yard.
* Take precautions when camping, hunting or fishing. Avoid sleeping on the open ground without the protection of a closed tent or camper. Keep pets on a leash and do not allow them to wander.
* Do not disturb roosting bats. If you find a bat on the ground, don’t touch it. Report the bat and its location to your local animal control officer or health department. Place a box over the bat to contain it. Be careful not to damage the bat in any way since it must be intact for rabies testing.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department offers the following tips if you encounter a mountain lion:
* Do not approach a mountain lion: Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
* Do not run from a mountain lion: Running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact.
* Do not crouch or bend over: A person squatting or bending over looks a lot like a four-legged prey animal.
* Appear larger: Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice.
* Protect small children so they won’t panic and run.
* Fight back if attacked: Potential victims have successfully fought back using rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and bare hands.
For more information about rabies, call your local health department or the Arizona Department of Health Services, Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Disease Section, at (602) 364-4562.
For more information about living in mountain lion country, visit the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Web site at www.azgfd.gov/urbanwildlife.