A group of campers killed a rabid mountain lion Friday south of Payson, the first reported case of the virus in Gila County in more than a year.
The mountain lion was reportedly killed by a camper after it ran through the group’s campsite and attacked a dog.
The group of four was camping in a remote section of the Tonto National Forest, downstream of Sheep Bridge along the Verde River, near the junction of Bloody Basin Road south of Payson, according to officials with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The group was reportedly eating breakfast Friday about 6:30 a.m., when a mountain lion ran out of the bushes and attacked a 90-pound pit bull and Labrador retriever mix.
As the fight between the mountain lion and dog moved into some nearby bushes, the dog’s owner hit the lion over the head with a cast iron skillet and another member of the group shot the lion in the head with a pistol.
One of the campers contacted the Arizona Game and Fish Department and a wildlife officer picked up the mountain lion carcass, transporting to the Arizona State Health Laboratory for disease testing.
While the young female lion appeared healthy, the lab confirmed Monday that the lion was rabid.
The dog had multiple puncture wounds and scratches, none were life threatening. It was reportedly current on its vaccinations, but will be placed under quarantine as a precaution.
None of the people in the group were bitten or scratched by the mountain lion.
“Documented incidents of rabies in mountain lions are rare,” said Anne Justice-Allen, wildlife health specialist for Arizona Game and Fish.
Records from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) show that this is only the third lab-confirmed case of rabies in a mountain lion in Arizona in the past 10 years.
In Gila County, it is the second rabid mountain lion caught in the past decade. The most common rabid animals are foxes and bats.
Campers should stay aware of their surroundings and nearby wildlife activity when recreating outdoors, keep distance from wildlife and make sure their pets are vaccinated, Game and Fish advised.
This year 11 animals — six skunks, three bats, one fox, and now, one mountain lion — have tested positive for rabies at the Arizona State Health Laboratory.
“People need to pack up a good dose of common sense when they head out into the outdoors,” says Will Humble, ADHS director. “If a wild animal is coming around, stay away from it. Chances are good it is sick or rabid. If you are hurt or exposed, you should get medical attention right away. If the animal has or had rabies, people can’t wait to start showing symptoms.”
Rabies is a disease that affects the nervous system and is transmitted through the saliva of the host. Exposure often occurs via a bite, but may take other avenues. It is common to have multiple cases of rabies occur in an area, depending on the strain of rabies involved.
Rabid animals may show unusual behavior or physical characteristics such as being bold or appearing unstable with awkward movements. Rabid carnivores, such as skunks, foxes, bobcats and coyotes, may become aggressive and attempt to bite people, pets and livestock.
Campers should report wild animals exhibiting unusual behavior 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. Aggressive behavior such as unprovoked attacks on either pets or people may also indicate an animal is rabid.
“Outdoor recreationists should not have an undue fear of the possibility of rabies in wildlife,” said Justice-Allen. “Enjoy the outdoors, but be attentive to your surroundings, and enjoy wildlife from a distance.”
For more information about rabies, visit www. azdhs.gov/phs/oids/vector/rabies or www.azgfd.gov/ w_c/research_rabiesnew.shtml.