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Bear attack, rattlesnake bite: Animal attacks could have been fatal

This Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is the largest and most dangerous snake in Georgia. One recently bit a Florida man and he was in the hospital for two weeks afterward, fighting for his life.
This Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is the largest and most dangerous snake in Georgia. One recently bit a Florida man and he was in the hospital for two weeks afterward, fighting for his life.
Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Public Domain

The purple flower petals that were used for a large gorilla exhibit during the recent 2014 Chelsea Flower Show in London make the wild animal seem tame and nonthreatening, but gorillas, like bears and snakes, can be anything but when you encounter them in the wild or even on a roadway in Alaska, Florida or elsewhere.

Kodiak, a rare cinnamon-colored black bear.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A Putnam County man recently learned just how dangerous wildlife can be when he attempted to prod a rattlesnake out of the Florida road he was traveling instead of running over it, and a jogger learned about the natural animal dangers in Alaska, too, when she came upon a bear's cub and its mother while out for a run with her husband.

The St. Augustine Record in Florida reported on May 30 that it took 52 vials of antivenin and a hole cut right below his Adam's apple in order to save Clay Petruski after a rattlesnake bit him on the hand. His throat had swollen almost shut after he was bitten, and he needed a medical pipe inserted into his trachea in order to allow him to breathe. The bite occurred when the animal-lover had tried unsuccessfully to shoo the rattler off the road he was traveling, prodding it with a stick instead of flattening it with his tires, as he said his wife and neighbors would have done.

The first symptom he noticed after the bite was a metallic taste that suddenly invaded his mouth. But he thought he had more time than he did in order to drive himself home and make a tourniquet with a belt, experiencing a fast drop in blood pressure instead. Thank goodness his wife was home and able to help him. But it still took doctors two weeks to save his life, despite their interventions.

Jessica Gamboa was in Alaska when her husband and she chose to go jogging at a military base, with the young mother getting left behind by her much faster running husband at one point during in the outdoor exercise activity. Gamboa happened upon a cub soon thereafter, and she knew that the mother bear must not be far behind. But she didn't have a chance to get away before encountering it. Fortunately she remembered something about the need to play dead with such bears. So she did. And it saved her life, although she was bloodied and very injured as a result of the mauling she ended up taking anyway.

A California official in the young mother's home state warns that handling a bear there by playing dead is the wrong approach, even though it worked for Gamboa in Alaska. That's why he advises those who encounter such animals in sunny California to "fight back aggressively" if you come upon a bear there, using "sticks, rocks, anything you can to fight the animal off," AOL reported.

In Georgia, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources states that when it comes to black bears here, "there are no recorded bear attacks on humans in Georgia, and no fatalities." And in addition to that, "There have only been two documented fatal black bear attacks in the Southeastern United States."

But that doesn't mean there can't be a first time, which is why it is better to follow the advice from the Georgia DNR, which says you should know that adult male bears can weigh as much as 500 pounds (300 pounds for an adult female), and that "they are good tree climbers, can swim well and are able to run at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour." So you don't want to find yourself near one or needing to outrun it. Instead, you want to be proactive when hiking in the woods by making noise, so you don't startle one unexpectedly.

Generally bears and rattlesnakes will move on if they are alerted to your approach before you make it. Bears have poor eyesight, so they may not see you, but they have a very keen sense of smell and hearing, so make noise as you walk but avoid eating foods while moving on the trail, just to be on the safe side.

And when it comes to a rattlesnake, know that "they can launch themselves up to half their body length," if they want to according to Florida Fish and Wildlife's Karen Parker, who told the St. Augustine Record that the eastern Diamondback that attacked Clay Petruski is the state's largest and most dangerous snake in her state. But it can feel ground vibrations, so stomp around as you walk, to let it know you are coming if you are about to approach areas with lots of underbrush. But don't poke a stick at it, as Petruski did, because you could spend two weeks in a hospital recuperating if you do--if you live.

Bill Bryson's humorous book titled "A Walk in the Woods," tries to educate readers about things like bears, while also taking a somewhat lighthearted approach to the subject. But if you have read it then you know that you must keep your snickers bars and other tantalizing food away from your campsite when you go hiking, especially in the North Georgia mountains, as that is where you will mostly find black bears in Georgia, in addition to central Georgia's Ocmulgee River drainage system, and the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeast section of the state.

If you are bit or attacked by a snake or a bear, call for help immediately; don't think you have time to drive yourself to the hospital first, or you could pass out, making it impossible to give important information to someone who comes along and finds you. And since this is the time of year that these attacks could occur more frequently, put emergency numbers in your cell phone now, so you can speed dial them if necessary.

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