Living with Wildlife
Wildlife can be found in and around the urban areas of Colorado’s fast-growing Front Range. As Colorado Springs and its neighboring communities continue to grow and expand, subdivision development impacts wildlife habitat and wild animals are often displaced. Some species continue to live in open space areas, parks, undeveloped parcels of land, river bottoms, and on or near bodies of water. Others have adapted well to urban living; skunks and raccoons, in particular, appear to thrive around urban environments. In most circumstances, people and wildlife can coexist but the key is to remember that wildlife are not pets; they are wild animals. Most dangerous and potentially harmful encounters with wildlife occur because people fail to leave the animals alone.
It is illegal in Colorado to feed deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn, and elk. Violators may be fined.
Source: Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife
Preventing Wildlife Encounters
- Do not feed wildlife.
- Keep pet food inside.
- Cover window wells with grates, wire, or plastic covers.
- Fill gaps or holes around the foundation of your residence to eliminate a place for animals to live.
- Seal all cracks and holes larger than ¼ inch in diameter to keep rats, mice, bats, and snakes out of a structure.
- Screen fireplace chimneys, and furnace, attic and dryer vents, and keep dampers closed to prevent wildlife entry.
- Bury wire mesh one to two feet deep to prevent animals from burrowing in unwanted areas.
- Store garbage in metal or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, inside a garage or shed.
- Mark windows with strips of white tape or with raptor silhouettes to help prevent birds from flying into windows.
- Fence gardens and pick fruit from trees before it ripens and clean up fallen fruit.
- Keep bird feeders out of reach.
- Burn food off grills and clean after each use.
- Keep windows and doors closed and locked, including residence, garage, and vehicle doors.
- Do not leave food, trash, coolers, air fresheners, or anything that smells in your vehicle.
Black bears are the only species of bear known to inhabit Colorado and are the largest of the state’s carnivores. This widely recognized species is routinely observed within Colorado Springs city limits. With many more people residing and recreating in the black bear’s native territory, human-bear encounters continue to rise.
Although named black bear, they can be honey-colored, blond, brown, cinnamon, or black and may have a tan muzzle or white spot on the chest. Depending on the season, food supply and gender, black bears may weigh from 100 to 450 pounds. Black bears typically measure three feet high when on all fours but can reach five feet tall when standing on back legs.
Black bears at a glance
- A bear’s natural diet is largely comprised of grasses, berries, fruits, nuts, and plants with a small portion coming from insects and scavenged carcasses.
- Black bears are wary of people and other unfamiliar things with a normal response to run from perceived danger.
- Bears are most active from mid-March through early November before heading to their den as food sources become less abundant.
- Bears can smell food five miles away as their nose is 100 times more sensitive than that of humans.
- Bears are smart and have great memories so once they find food, they come back for more.
- During late summer and early fall bears need 20,000 calories a day to gain enough weight to survive the winter without eating or drinking.
If you encounter a bear
- Try to chase away a bear that comes near your residence. Yell, blow a whistle, clap your hands, and make other loud noises.
- Never approach or corner a bear.
If you surprise a bear on a trail
- Stand still, stay calm, and let the bear identify you and leave.
- Talk in a normal tone of voice.
- Be sure the bear has an escape route.
- Never run or climb a tree.
- Leave the area immediately if you see cubs. Their mother is usually close by.
If the bear doesn’t leave
- A bear standing up is just trying to identify what you are by getting a better look and smell.
- Wave your arms slowly overhead and talk calmly. If the bear huffs, pops its jaws, or stomps a paw, it wants you to give it space.
- Step off the trail to the downhill side, keep looking at the bear, and slowly back away until the bear is out of sight.
If the bear approaches
- Stand your ground. Yell or throw small rocks in the direction of the bear. A bear approaching a person could be a food-conditioned bear looking for a handout or, very rarely, an aggressive bear.
- Get out your bear spray and use it when the bear is about 40 feet away.
- Fight back with anything available if attacked and do not play dead. People have successfully defended themselves with pocket knives, walking sticks, and even bare hands.
Coyotes live throughout Colorado and are a common sight in Colorado Springs. They are adaptable animals and rapidly adjust to changing conditions. Given appropriate food and shelter, coyotes are comfortable in the country, mountains, or urban areas. People should be aware of their presence and take precautions to avoid conflict with them. Although human or pet interactions with coyotes generally receive negative publicity, humans can coexist with these animals with a better understanding of them and their habitat. In urban settings, they can lose their fear of people and may even threaten domestic pets. Although attacks on humans are extremely rare, there have been cases where coyotes have attacked young children.
Coyote at a glance
- Similar in size and shape to a small shepherd dog
- Generally four feet in length
- Black-tipped tail about 14 inches long
- Weights are 30 to 40 pounds
- Hair varies in color with geography and season from pale grayish buff to rich reddish brown
- Ears are rusty red behind
- Active day or night, but mostly at dawn and dusk
If you live in coyote country
- Do not allow your pets to roam, especially at night. Coyotes will attack and kill cats and dogs.
- Make sure your yard is appropriately fenced.
- Do not allow dogs to run with coyotes.
- Do not leave pet food outside because this invites wildlife into your yard.
- Keep your garbage in a storage facility or in a tightly sealed container.
If you meet a coyote
- Keep your distance and do not approach the animal.
- Keep your pets on a leash when walking them.
- Throw rocks or sticks to frighten a coyote away if it approaches you or your pet.
- Use a loud, authoritative voice to frighten the animal.
Deer are common in Colorado Springs due to the city’s ample parks and open space and proximity to forests and rangeland. There are two species of deer in Colorado Springs – mule deer and whitetails. Both species of deer average five feet long and stand three or more feet tall at the shoulder. Larger bucks may reach over 400 pounds with does being about half that size.
If you live in deer country
- Slow down and drive cautiously when you see a deer crossing sign—especially during feeding times such as dusk and at night.
- Drive cautiously if you see one deer on the road, at least one more may be nearby.
- Leave the animals alone; they will tend to move on to new areas.
- Utilize commercial deer repellents or mixtures containing eggs to ward off deer.
- Protect gardens, flowers, and shrubs by using wire cylinders and fences.
- Consider planting native flowers and shrubs that may be less attractive food sources.
Mountain lions in Colorado are most likely found in foothills, canyons, or mesa country and are at home in brushy areas and woodlands. Colorado Springs with its geography and vegetation provides a suitable, if not desirable, habitat for this large cat to live and roam. Mountain lions are typically found in areas with plentiful deer and adequate cover. These characteristics are common in the foothills, urban edges, parks, and open spaces of Colorado Springs. Not surprisingly, the number of mountain lion/human interactions is increasing as more people move into mountain lion habitat and spend more time using hiking and running trails in these areas.
The mountain lion is called by more names than any other Colorado mammal–cougar, puma, panther, catamount or lion. As Colorado’s largest cat, adult mountain lions grow to more than six feet in length including a long black-tipped tail. They typically weigh 130 pounds or more. Mountain lion coloring is reddish to buff and paler on the belly.
If you have an encounter with a mountain lion or an attack occurs, immediately contact the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife during business hours, Monday through Friday at 303-297-1192. Before or after these hours, contact the Colorado State Patrol at 303-239-4501 or your local Sheriff’s department.
Source for Bears, Coyotes, Deer and Mountain Lions: Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, By David M. Armstrong, University of Colorado-Boulder
Mountain lions at a glance
- Mountain lions are generally calm, quiet, and elusive. People rarely see mountain lions in the wild.
- Mountain lion attacks on people are rare.
- The mountain lion’s staple diet is deer, with adults eating about one a week.
- Mountain lions hunt by stealth, often pouncing on prey from a tree or rock overhanging a game trail.
- They are most active from dusk to dawn.
If you encounter a mountain lion
- Do not approach a mountain lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
- Stay calm when you come upon a mountain lion. Talk calmly yet firmly to it. Move slowly.
- Stop or back away slowly, if you can do it safely. Running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the mountain lion and stand upright.
- Do all you can to appear larger by raising your arms or opening your jacket if you are wearing one.
- Protect small children by picking them up so they won’t panic and run.
- Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back if the mountain lion behaves aggressively. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. What you want to do is convince the mountain lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the mountain lion.
- Fight back if a mountain lion attacks you. They have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have successfully fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools. and their bare hands.
- Try to stay on your feet.
If you live in mountain lion country
- Walk or hike in groups and make plenty of noise to reduce your chances of surprising a mountain lion.
- Make sure children are close to you and within your sight at all times.
- Carry a sturdy walking stick to help ward off a mountain lion.
- Make lots of noise if you come and go during the times mountain lions are most active.
- Install outside lighting. Light areas where you walk so you could see a mountain lion if one were present.
- Closely supervise children whenever they play outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and not outside before dawn. Talk with children about mountain lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
- Landscape or remove vegetation to eliminate hiding places for mountain lions, especially around children’s play areas. Make it difficult for mountain lions to approach unseen.
- Plant native shrubs and plants to minimize unwanted wildlife from foraging on your property.
- Keep your pet under control. Roaming pets are easy prey and can attract mountain lions. Bring pets in at night. If you leave your pet outside, keep it in a kennel with a secure top. Don’t feed pets outside; this can attract raccoons and other animals that are eaten by mountain lions.
- Store all garbage securely.
Of the 25 species of snakes in Colorado, the western rattlesnake is the only venomous species regularly found in Colorado Springs. Rattlesnakes may be found in a wide variety of habitats including rocky hillsides, grassy fields, forested areas, and along creeks. When hiking in one of the area’s numerous parks, open spaces, or in other rattlesnake habitat, the best safety measure against venomous snakes is to be prepared for a possible encounter with them. Rattlesnakes generally are nonaggressive toward people and pets unless they are startled, cornered, or stepped on.
Before you enter rattlesnake habitat
- Be able to recognize the western rattlesnake.
- Wear long, loose pants and calf-high leather boots, or preferably snake guards.
- Alert snakes of your approach by sweeping grassy areas with a long stick before entering.
- Do not jump over logs, turn over rocks, put your hands in rock crevices or sit down without first carefully checking for snakes.
- Remain calm and still at first, then try to slowly and carefully back up if you are confronted with a rattlesnake.
How to identify the western rattlesnake
- Rattle at the end of the tail
- Fangs in addition to their rows of teeth
- Vertical pupils that may look like thin lines in bright light whereas nonvenomous snakes have round pupils
- Broad triangular head and narrow neck
How to discourage snakes from entering your yard and residence
- Eliminate cool, damp areas where snakes hide.
- Remove brush and rock piles, keep shrubbery away from foundations, and cut tall grass.
- Control insect and rodent populations (the snakes’ primary food source) to force them to seek areas with a larger food supply.
- Place grains in sealed containers and clean up pet food and debris.
- Prevent snakes from entering basements and crawl spaces by sealing all openings ¼ inch or larger with mortar, caulking compound, or ⅛-inch hardware cloth.
Source: M. Cerato and W.F. Andelt and the Colorado State University Extension Office
The western widow spider is common in Colorado Springs and is the only regularly encountered spider in the area that is harmful to humans. The widely know “black widow” is more common in the eastern and southern United States. Widow spiders usually nest near the ground in dark, undisturbed sites. Some of the favorite nesting sites of widows are window wells, corners of garages, loose stone or woodpiles, crawl space entrances, and old rodent burrows.
Widow Spider Identification
The presence of red or red-orange markings on the underside of the abdomen is characteristic of widow spiders. This pattern may be in the form of a distinct hourglass pattern or appear as two separate triangles. However, this pattern can be highly variable with the western widow where markings may be distinct and bright, or sometimes faint and indistinct.
Signs and symptoms of a widow spider bite
Bites from the widow spider are painful and potentially dangerous because they contain a nerve poison. Fortunately, widow spiders are non-aggressive and rarely bite. When bites do occur they occur when the female is provoked, such as when an unwitting person presses down on a spider that is resting beneath a log or rock.
- Often there is a general sense of discomfort shortly after the bite and acute symptoms increase in severity during the first day.
- Muscle and chest pain or tightness are some of the most common reactions.
- Pain may spread to the abdomen, producing stomach cramping and nausea.
- Other symptoms include restlessness, anxiety, sweating, and breathing and speech difficulty.
- Swelling may be noticed in extremities and eyelids, but rarely at the bite site.
- A sense of burning in the soles of the feet is often noted.
- Symptoms usually decline after two to three days but some may continue for several weeks up to a month after the bite.
Other mammals vary in their reaction to widow toxin. For example, horses are highly susceptible whereas rabbits are more resistant. Cats may be sensitive to a widow bite while dogs may suffer only mild symptoms.
Source: Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife and W. Cranshaw of the Colorado State University Extension Office – Paraphrased
Hantavirus and Plague
Hantavirus is an infectious respiratory disease carried by certain wild rodents, especially deer mice. The rodents shed virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. When fresh urine, droppings, or nesting material are stirred up, virus particles can become airborne. Anyone who comes into contact with hantavirus infected rodent droppings, urine, saliva or nesting material is at risk of contracting hantavirus.
The incubation period (time from exposure to first symptoms) ranges from one to five weeks but averages two to three weeks. Hantavirus is a serious illness that can result in respiratory failure and death. Hantavirus is not spread from person to person. Currently, there are no effective drug treatments for hantavirus.
Symptoms of Hantavirus
• Fever, fatigue and muscle aches
• Headaches, dizziness, chills
• Vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain
• Coughing and shortness of breath as lungs fill with fluid
Plague (Yersinia Pestis) is caused by bacteria and is transmitted to people through bites from infected fleas and through direct contact with tissues or fluids from animals infected with plague. In Colorado Springs, prairie dogs and rabbits are the most likely wild animals to carry the plague. However, rock and ground squirrels, and mice can also become infected after eating other infected animals.
Transmission from domestic cats and dogs also have caused plague in humans. Cats sometimes exhibit swelling around their mouth, head, and neck when infected. Seek professional veterinary care for animals exhibiting those symptoms and do not handle sick pets without gloves and face protection. In humans, the incubation period of plague is usually one to six days depending on the mode of transmission. Treatment with antibiotics is effective during the early stages of disease. Life threatening complications may occur if diagnosis and appropriate treatment are delayed.
Symptoms of Plague
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Rapidly developing pneumonia,
- Bleeding under the skin
- Severe headache and weakness
Preventing exposure and rodent proofing your residence
The best way to prevent being infected is to avoid contact with rodents. Keep them away from commonly accessed areas such as your residence, garage, and shed. Although it may be difficult to eliminate rodents completely, make every effort to monitor and reduce their presence. Special precautions should be taken when cleaning or working in a heavily rodent-infested environment.
- Keep your residence or outbuilding clean.
- Properly store or dispose of unused food, including pet food.
- Keep garbage cans tightly sealed.
- Fill all structural holes with wire screening, steel wool, or cement.
- Set and maintain spring-loaded traps throughout the building—inside and outside.
- Eliminate or maintain places where rodents can hide and breed, such as woodpiles, yard equipment, broken cement, and trash.
- Do not feed or entice any rodent or rabbit species into your yard, back porch, or patio.
- Reduce the rodent habitat around your home, workplace and recreational areas
- Wear gloves if you are handling or skinning potentially infected animals
- Use repellent if you think you could be exposed to rodent fleas during activities such as camping, hiking or working outdoors.
- Keep fleas off your pets by applying flea control products. If your pet becomes sick, promptly seek care from a veterinarian.
- Do not allow dogs or cats that roam free in endemic areas to sleep on your bed.
- Do not touch sick, dead or dying wildlife with bare hands.
- Avoid rodent burrows like prairie dog holes as the fleas that carry disease can be numerous in those areas.
Cleaning a rodent infested dwelling to prevent hantavirus
- Open all doors and windows at least 30 minutes prior to cleaning. Use an N95-rated disposable respirator if the building is heavily infested or ventilation isn’t possible.
- Spray all rodent droppings, nest materials, and remains with a bleach solution and let them soak 5-10 minutes before cleaning with a mop, sponge or wet towel. Do not use a broom or vacuum which could stir up the virus.
- Use a mixture of bleach and water (1½ cups bleach to a gallon of water, or one part bleach to nine parts water). Always wear water-resistant gloves.
- Dispose of contaminated materials by placing them in a sealed plastic bag and taking to an outdoor trash can.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning.
West Nile Virus
Infected mosquitoes spread West Nile virus when they bite an animal or human. This virus can be quite serious or even fatal. However, most people who are infected with mosquito-borne virus do not become ill and have no symptoms. Person-to-person transmission does not occur. The virus is prevalent from May to September when mosquitoes are most abundant, but the risk to humans occurs primarily from August through early September.
In Colorado Springs, mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus feed in the hours around dawn and dusk. During the day they rest in shady, secluded areas, such as under porches, roof overhangs, tall grass, shrubs, and storm sewers. They breed in almost any source of standing water that lasts for more than a few days.
Symptoms of West Nile Virus
Approximately 80% of people who are infected with mosquito-borne virus do not become ill and have no symptoms. For persons who do become ill, the incubation period (time between the mosquito bite and onset of symptoms) is 2-14 days.
Two different types of disease occur in humans: (1) viral fever syndrome, and (2) encephalitis, inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues. About 20% of people who are infected with West Nile Virus will develop viral fever syndrome. Symptoms of viral fever syndrome include fever, headache, and malaise; and can persist for 2-7 days.
In less than 1% of the cases, the virus can cause a more serious brain infection such as meningitis or encephalitis. Symptoms begin with sudden onset of high fever and a headache, then may progress to stiff neck, disorientation, or tremors. Severe infections can result in permanent brain damage or death. There is no specific treatment for infection with these viruses except supportive care.
Mosquito virus prevention and control
- Limit outside activity around dawn and dusk when mosquitoes feed.
- Wear protective clothing such as lightweight long pants and long sleeve shirts.
- Apply insect repellent to exposed skin when outside. Repellents with DEET are effective but should be applied sparingly. Products with 10% or less of DEET are recommended for children.
- Make sure that doors and windows have tight-fitting screens without tears or holes.
- Drain all standing water on private property, no matter how small an amount.
- Stock permanent ponds or fountains with fish that eat mosquito larvae.
- Change water in birdbaths or wading pools and empty flowerpot saucers of standing water at least once a week.
- Check around faucets and air conditioner units; repair leaks or puddles that remain for several days.
- Make sure gutters drain properly.
- Remove standing water under or around structures or on flat roofs.
- Remove items that could collect water such as old tires, buckets, and empty cans.
- Report dead birds to local authorities because they may be a sign that West Nile virus is circulating between birds and mosquitoes.
Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system of mammals, causing a fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. In Colorado Springs, bats are the primary carrier of rabies, but raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes are other carriers of the virus. Although bats are the primary local carrier, studies suggest that less than one percent of all bats are infected with rabies.
Rabies virus is found in the saliva of infected animals and is commonly spread through a bite, scratch or other contact with animal’s mouth or saliva. Dogs, cats, or ferrets that bite or scratch a human should be put in confinement for a ten-day observation period to determine whether the animal is suffering from symptoms of rabies. If a dog, cat, or ferret remains alive and healthy during the ten days after biting someone, then the animal did not have rabies at the time the bite occurred. This observation period only applies to these three species.
If a person is bitten or otherwise has contact with a potentially rabid wild animal, every effort should be taken to collect the animal for rabies testing. It is important not to destroy or damage the head of the animal. The only way to determine if an animal was rabid is by examining the intact brain tissue.
Rabies in Humans
Rabies is a fatal disease with progressive symptoms. It is very important to inform your health care provider right away if you have been bitten by an animal that might have rabies. A vaccine is available that is almost 100% effective at preventing rabies if it is administered as soon as possible after exposure. The first step to decrease the chances for infection is to immediately wash the wound with soap and water followed by a 2-4 week series of rabies vaccination.
Symptoms of rabies
- Pain or tingling at the site of the bite
- Hydrophobia—a fear of water caused by spasms of the throat
- Paralysis of body parts
Can’t identify rabid animals
• It is impossible to tell if an animal is rabid by simply looking at it
• The safest approach is not to touch it.
How to protect yourself from rabies
• Do not feed, touch, or adopt sick or wild animals and be cautious of stray dogs and cats.
• Teach children to leave wildlife alone and to tell an adult if an animal bites or scratches them.
• Close garbage cans or store them in a garage or shed.
• Call your health care provider if an animal bites or scratches you.
How to protect pets from rabies
• Keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats, ferrets, and dogs.
• Maintain control of your pets by keeping cats and ferrets indoors and keeping dogs under direct supervision when outdoors.
Tularemia, also known as rabbit fever or deer fly fever, is a potentially serious illness that can occasionally pass from animals to humans. It is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. The disease mainly affects mammals, especially rodents, rabbits and hares, but can infect birds and insects.
Tularemia is spread between animals by insect bites, direct transmission, and inhalation or ingestion of the bacteria. The bacteria can persist for long periods of time in the environment in water, soil and in carcasses.
There are multiple forms of disease that can occur in humans. The form that occurs in a person depends on the way in which the person was infected. The most common form of the disease in humans is ulceroglandular tularemia. It is characterized by a skin ulcer that forms at the site of infection – usually through an insect bite, a cut, or some other break in the skin. Other forms of the disease include: glandular, affecting the lymph nodes; pneumonic, affecting the lungs and causing pneumonia; oculoglandular, affecting one or both eyes; and typhoidal, which is systemic infection of the blood.
Symptoms of tularemia may be non-specific, which can make it hard to diagnose. After being infected, people can develop pneumonia, dehydration, inflammation of the spleen or liver, and without treatment, can progress to septic infection of the blood and even death.
Generalized symptoms of tularemia include but are not limited to:
• abdominal pain
• muscle aches
• painful, swollen lymph nodes
Symptoms usually appear 2 to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria, but can take as long as 21 days.
How Tularemia Spreads
It only takes a few bacteria to cause tularemia. The symptoms and severity of the disease depend on the route of entry through which the bacteria enter the human body. Transmission of tularemia from person to person has never been reported. People can get tularemia in the following ways:
• tick or deer fly bites, which usually cause ulceroglandular or glandular tularemia
• handling infected animals, particularly when hunting or skinning infected rabbits, muskrats, prairie dogs, or other rodents; handling a domestic pet that has been infected with tularemia, particularly cats, dogs, or pet rodents
• eating or drinking contaminated food or water that has not been cooked or processed thoroughly
• inhaling dust or aerosols that are contaminated with F. tularensis
How Is Tularemia Treated?
Tularemia can be difficult to diagnose because it is rare, and many of the symptoms it causes are also present in more common illnesses. If you have been recently hunting, gardening, had contact with sick or dead animals, or had recent tick or deer fly bites, this information should be shared with your health care provider. Blood tests can be done to confirm the diagnosis of tularemia. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection over the course of 10 to 21 days depending on the state of illness and the medication used. Symptoms may last for several weeks even after treatment has been completed, and most people completely recover.
How to Prevent Becoming Infected with Tularemia
Tularemia occurs naturally in many parts of the United States, including Colorado. When hiking, camping, or working outdoors, use insect repellent containing 20% to 30% DEET (N,N-diethylmeta-toulamide), picariding, or IR3535. Follow the label directions to ensure proper use. Wear long pants, long sleeve shirts, and long socks to keep tick and deer flies off your skin. Remove attached ticks promptly with fine-tipped tweezers. Don’t drink untreated surface water (i.e. from lakes, rivers, and streams). When mowing or landscaping, don’t mow over sick or dead animals. Consider using dust masks to reduce your risk of inhaling the bacteria. If you hunt, trap or skin animals, use gloves when handling animals, especially rabbits, muskrats, prairie dogs, and other rodents. Cook game meat thoroughly before eating.
Note any change in the behavior of your pets (especially rodents, rabbits, and hares) or livestock, and consult a veterinarian if they develop unusual symptoms.