Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals that is usually transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. Here in the west, the animals carrying rabies tend to be skunks, bats, foxes, and bobcats. People and their pets can become infected, and the treatment is a series of shots that is painful and certainly NOT FUN! Due to the increased danger, health officials remind the public to use caution while engaging in outdoor activities and to always avoid any contact with wild animals, particularly one that appears to be sick, is dead, or is behaving in a strange manner.
Yes, some Grand Canyon animals do have rabies. I personally saw a bobcat at Indian Garden with rabies that later died. In October of 2002, Phantom Ranch V.I.P. Sjors found a gray fox acting “peculiar” in the middle of the day. Just the fact that the fox was out in the open in the middle of the day was highly unusual and raised his suspicions. The fox actually attacked Sjors and after some very dramatic back-and-forth fighting, Sjors was able to knock the fox down and escape! After notifying the law enforcement ranger and making sure that everyone in the area was safe from the fox, it took 3 /12 hours to finally hunt the fox down and dispatch it. They had to make sure that when they shot it (it had to be done), they had to do so in the heart and lungs. You need the brain to test for rabies.
The fox turned out to be the first in Grand Canyon documented to have rabies. Sjors went through the series of rabies immune globulin shots into 17 scratches as a precautionary treatment and would have to endure them over several months. Glover, the ranger, also received the rabies series over the next few months as a precautionary measure. The series consists of six vaccinations that if given within two-weeks of the bite prove to be 100-percent effective.
The following precautions will help to reduce risk of exposure to rabies:
- Avoid any wild animals. People who feed or handle wild animals, and pets coming into contact with wild animals, risk possible exposure to rabies.
- If hiking with a dog, keep it on a leash no more than six feet in length. Do not let your dog wander freely on the trails as it could come into contact with a wild animal, increasing its risk of exposure to rabies.
- Bring a trekking pole or walking stick with you on your hikes to ward off wild animals that may be infected.
If you see a fox, bobcat or skunk near you, turn around and go the other way. Do not run. Walk slowly and keep an eye on the animal to ensure it is not following you. If it runs at you, use your trekking pole or walking stick to stun it and move as quickly as you can out of the area. If you do not have anything with you to defend yourself, kick the animal and move out of the area. Remember normal behavior in a wild animal is shyness and avoiding any human or domestic interaction. If the animal is coming at you or at your dog something is wrong.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Arizona Department of Health Services
- Arizona Game and Fish Department