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Let’s Hike: Sharing the woods with wildlife


Kate Churches  |  Upstate Parent

Paris Mountain State Park Ranger Cathy Taylor helps Upstate students and families learn about everything from turtles to trails. She is back for the second part of a two-part series about hiking safety – this time, she focuses on wildlife. Find part one online at upstateparent.com.

Snakes

I’ve always wondered what to do about a snake on a hike. 

Taylor said if you encounter a snake in the woods, just think about how cool it will be to share this experience with friends after the hike, and she suggested observing the snake.

“Is it flicking its tongue to ‘smell’ as it finds its way?” Taylor asked. “Most snakes can bite, even if not venomous, so it is usually best to stand back and watch. Snakes do not want to interact with you, since they cannot eat you (they swallow their food whole), and even a toddler will seem like a huge, scary creature to any snake around here.”

But what if the snake is venomous?

Taylor recommended learning how to identify the copperhead.

“It is our only common venomous snake in the Upstate of South Carolina,” she said. “It has a striking coppery, hourglass design against a lighter background, and it really does have a head the color of a penny.  It has the classic, vertical pupils of a venomous snake, but you don’t need to get close enough to see. Young copperheads have a neon yellow tail.” 

As for other snakes?

“There is a possibility of coming across a timber rattlesnake, but it is less common,” she said.

Regarding water snakes, Taylor noted a common misconception. 

“When people see a banded snake in the water, they usually think it is a copperhead or a water moccasin,” she said. “Water moccasins live south of Anderson – not in Greenville County. The snake that people see in the water is generally a Northern water snake. The Northern water snake has dark bands, and it can range in coloring from reddish to dark brown. That is the snake seen most often at Paris Mountain around water. It is not venomous. It is also particularly unfriendly if handled, so let it swim away.”

Bears

Bears are spotted once or twice a year at Paris Mountain State Park, but Taylor said South Carolina hikers are unlikely to encounter a bear. She has only seen a bear once at Paris Mountain, under the persimmon tree.

But bears are around and Taylor said trash cans should be secured.

If one does encounter a bear while hiking, “the bear generally leaves if people stand tall while keeping their distance and firmly (telling) it to go away,” Taylor advised. “Issues are more likely to arise if a person’s dog attacks a bear. If you ever see cute baby bears, stay away. Know that mama bear is nearby, and she will protect her cubs from whomever she considers a danger.”

So what do you do if a bear attacks your dog?

“Do not rush the bear and attempt to separate the animals,” Taylor said. “Make loud noises by shouting and clapping and, if available, spray the bear with a hose or throw objects at it while maintaining a safe distance. Once the bear leaves the area, retrieve your pet and leave the area.”

In addition to appropriate veterinary treatment, contact the state wildlife agency immediate to assess the threat and take action.

Pet owners can also take precautions by keeping dogs on a leash and not walking after dark in an area with bears.