Officials identify possible reason for dead foxes and “strange wildlife behavior” at Arizona national park


National Park Service officials on Tuesday identified rabies as a possible cause for “strange wildlife behavior” and dead foxes at Arizona’s Saguaro National Park. 

There was also a reported incident of a bobcat biting a park visitor, authorities said. Park staff have not yet recovered any animal carcasses for testing to determine the cause of illness in animals. 

Officials urged visitors to notify park staff and seek medical attention immediately if they have had physical contact with an animal.

Who can get rabies?

Rabies impacts all types of mammals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s rare in people, with just one to three cases reported a year in the U.S., according to the CDC, but around 60,000 Americans get post-exposure prophylaxis each year to prevent infection. 

More than 90% of rabies cases in the U.S. occur in wildlife, with raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes as the most common carriers, the CDC said. 

According to the National Park Service, rabies is usually transmitted through the saliva of infected animals through a bite or a scratch.

What are the signs and symptoms of rabies?

While officials didn’t specify what strange behaviors the animals at Saguaro were showing, animals with rabies can seem sleepy, confused or aggressive, according to the park service. They can also lose their fear of humans. 

Rabies symptoms can take weeks, or even months, to appear, according to the CDC. Symptoms don’t appear until after the rabies virus travels to the brain. 

Initial symptoms can be similar to the flu, including weakness, discomfort, fever or headache, according to the CDC. There can also be discomfort, prickling or an itching sensation at the site of the bite or scratch. 

Later, symptoms include cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion and agitation. People with rabies may experience delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, fear of water and insomnia. Rabies is almost always fatal once clinical signs appear. 

Symptoms in animals are usually similar to those in humans.

How to prevent rabies

According to the CDC, rabies can be prevented by vaccinating pets, staying away from wildlife and seeking medical care after potential exposures before symptoms start. The health agency says “the best way to avoid rabies in the U.S. is to stay away from wildlife.”

“Leave all wildlife alone, including injured animals,” the CDC writes. “If you find an injured animal, don’t touch it; contact local authorities for assistance.

It’s also important to protect pets. Pets who get rabies from wildlife can spread it to humans. 

Saguaro visitors with pets should make sure the pets’ rabies vaccination is up to date, according to the park service. Pets in the park are only allowed on certain trails, and must be on a six-foot leash. 



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