Lions and Tigers and Bears, OH MY! What you need to know about Cohutta Wildlife.
While problematic animal encounters are not likely, it’s important to remember that any wildlife could pose a threat if not treated with the proper respect and distance. In the Cohutta and Big Frog Wilderness there are over 70 known species of fish thriving in the area, many different kinds of birds from owls, eagles, and hawks to small songbirds. The area is also full of a variety of mammals, reptiles and amphibians and most are harmless; however, some wildlife does require caution. Here are some practical tips for how to treat a situation involving these critters.
Copperheads and timber rattlesnakes are venomous, and are common in the area.
To identify a Venomous snake look at the head shape, if it is diamond shaped it is venomous.
To avoid snakes in general stay away from large wood piles, water with a lot of logs and debris and when stepping over logs to look over it for snakes first. Always watch your step!
If you do encounter a snake on the trail, keep it in your line of vision and back away slowly until a safe distance away. Do not try to physically restrain it with a stick or pole, do not touch it or try and kill it. Most likely it won’t touch you until you touch it.
If bitten by one of these snakes
DO stay as calm as possible, death from a bite is rare.
Wash the wound with water and soap if possible and remove tight clothing and jewelry from the area allowing it to swell naturally, Get to the nearest medical facility as soon as possible!
DO NOT apply alcohol, ice or anything cold to the wound. DO NOT try to use suction to remove venom and definitely do not attempt to cut the wound open more.
Black bears are also very common in the area. These bears rarely pose a threat but can if aggravated. (Note: Grizzly Bears DO NOT live in the Eastern United States and if you intend to travel to a location where they are native please do addition research. The below rules DO NOT APPLY to Grizzlies!)
To avoid an encounter with a black bear or to just avoid one stealing your food and scavenging around your campsite, make sure to tie up all food and scented products you have brought with you in a bag in a tree a good distance from your camp. Also don’t be afraid to make a little noise, bears hear you before seeing you.
If you do encounter a black bear do not panic! Stand your ground! Don’t run or climb a tree because bears can do both of those better than you can. Instead, talk to the bear calmly and avoid eye contact and back away from it slowly. If a black bear does charge, fight back using anything as we weapon aiming for the eyes and snout!
Another large animal native to the forest are mountain lions - also known as cougars, pumas and panthers.
Mountain lions can be dangerous but are very rarely seen by humans. In fact, the eastern cougar has recently been proposed extinct in the wild even though there have been 10 confirmed sightings since 2015 in Tennessee. Because the Cohutta Wilderness shares a border with Tennessee, it isn’t a bad idea to keep an eye out just in case.
If you encounter a mountain lion you are highly encouraged to report it and if sure you are completely safe to do so, take a picture. Do not turn your back on it! Maintain eye contact and try to appear as big as possible by flaring arms, puffing out your chest and if you are wearing a jacket, hold out bottom of it to increase the appearance of size while making a lot of noise and yelling at it. If attacked protected your neck, and fight back!
Another often overlooked animal that can be dangerous is the wild boar. Boar are most common at dusk and dawn.
If you encounter one of these feral hog climb the nearest tree or boulder and try to get at least six feet off the ground because they can not climb with their back legs. If there are no places to climb try to fight back but try your hardest to have a sturdy footing and do not fall to the ground.
A much smaller threat are ticks. Tick season is completely year round in georgia and they can carry a variety of diseases, ticks in georgia can carry
- Spotted fever rickettsiosis.
- Lyme Disease.
Contracting any of these from a tick bite is rare but if is a good idea to keep an eye out for symptoms after a bite.
To prevent tick bites, walk towards the center of the trail and try to keep out of long grass and bushes and when the weather is appropriate tuck pants into sock and wear long sleeves. Shower and check yourself for ticks as soon as you get home.
To remove a tick, grasp it as close to the skin as possible with fine tipped tweezers and pull gently and steadily. Clean the area with alcohol, iodine, or soap and water.
Black widows and Brown recluses are the only venomous spiders in the area.
To avoid these spiders, Black widows love dark damp areas like old wood piles, so keep away from those areas, also they rarely bite when not aggravated and tend to be very shy. Brown Recluses tend to live under rocks, logs and in wood piles preferring the dark. They are most active at night so it is best while camping to keeps all jackets and clothing in your tent at night
If you are bitten, take a picture of the spider if possible for later identification. Clean the wound with soap and water apply a mild antiseptic and if the bite does not turn into an open sore( which can happen with a brown recluse bite). keep the wound elevated above heart level and apply a cold compress. Seek medical attention immediately. Do not try to suck out poison. A bite is rarely fatal to an adult human but is still extremely dangerous.
For further reading: