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Here's How To Stay Safe If You Run Into Wildlife On A Hiking Trail (Or Anywhere Else)

A coyote looks at the camera while standing in a flattened brush area, with green plants in the background.
Coyotes are entering denning season, when they behave more defensively while setting up to have their litters.
(SKD's LA Street Scenes
LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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As the weather warms up, both people and wild animals will become more ubiquitous on L.A.’s hiking trails.

Some are harmless, like squirrels or gophers. But others, like coyotes and venomous snakes, can be dangerous to humans and dogs.

Jessica West, a human-wildlife conflict specialist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said there are tried and true ways of responding to wild animals.

If a snake makes an appearance, West says give it plenty of space. In the case of a rattlesnake, it's estimated that it can strike from one-third to two-thirds of its body length, so maintain more distance than the length of the snake.

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Distinguishing between nonpoisonous snakes — such as king snakes, gopher snakes, and striped racers — and the poisonous kinds, such as the southern pacific rattlesnake, the Mojave Green, and sidewinders, is all about the head.

“All of these [poisonous] snakes are going to have a diamond-shaped head,” she said. “A non-venomous snake, they're actually going to have a head that's shaped a lot more like your thumb.”

On the off chance you do get a bite from one of the poisonous kinds, West said to stay as calm as you can to slow the spread of the venom, and get to a hospital immediately.

In addition to snakes, coyotes could show up on hiking trails (or even in neighborhoods). At this time of year, coyotes are entering what’s called denning season, when they behave more defensively while setting up to have their litters.

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“If you're hiking with your dogs, make sure you're keeping them on leash,” said West. “Try to avoid areas that have signs posted about active coyote dens. Just like snakes, it really is just about giving them their space to avoid any potential conflict.”

West added that most animals want to avoid people, too. In the event that one does approach with nefarious intent, she said, it helps to have something with you that can be used to fend the creature off.

“We recommend carrying a hiking stick, something that you could potentially use to either make yourself look larger, or even to use [as] a frightening mechanism,” she said.

No matter the animal, West suggests keeping your eyes on the animal and backing away slowly rather than turning and running.

What questions do you have about Southern California?