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Animal safety: Vandenberg community remains cautious around wildlife

Vandenberg Air Force Base is home to many species of animals, which require special safety precautions.  (U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Stephen Cadette)

Vandenberg Air Force Base is home to many species of animals, which require special safety precautions. (U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Stephen Cadette)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- It was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

During an event for the 2004 Guardian Challenge here, a 30th Security Forces Squadron Airman found an unfortunate surprise in a bush.

"He decided to crawl into a bush and secure his position," Said Daniel Hernandez, a Vandenberg conservation officer said. "A rattlesnake had also secured its position in that bush and bit that Airman right on the posterior and he was immediately taken to receive medical care."

From rattlesnakes to deer, ground squirrels to boars, wild animals reside on Vandenberg. Airmen can live harmoniously with Vandenberg's wild, unpredictable residents.

Don't touch
Even though some animals may seem harmless, sick animals are inclined to act in self-defense.

"If you notice and injured or sick looking animals make sure not to approach them," Mr. Hernandez said. "Sick or injured animals will be more aggressive which poses a threat to the individual."

Also, don't try to remove dead or dying animals because a disease can still be transferred.

"This is especially important concerning birds," said Staff Sergeant Michael Bell, the 30th Medical Group NCOIC of community health at Vandenberg. "West Nile isn't a particular problem here but, it's still something to keep in mind."

In addition to animals being uncharacteristically aggressive when sick or injured, some animals found on Vandenberg can be naturally aggressive and dealt with accordingly.

Call the 30th SFS law enforcement desk if a sick or injured animal is spotted on base and make a report then properly trained individuals will come remove the carcass or deal with the animal.

Lions, squirrels and boars...oh my
Imagine any sunny day on California's central coast and an Airman is outside, in base housing, planting a seasonal garden. The Airman reaches into the dirt to plant a flower and is bitten by a gopher.

That may not be what pops into the mind when presented with the phrase, "aggressive animal" but, it is a reality when a gopher in base housing bit someone in April 2006, according to the Vandenberg community health office.

However, some wild animals bite may not be as mild as a garden variety gopher.

"There have been mountain lion, wild boar and cougar sightings on Vandenberg," Sergeant Bell said.

Two things to remember if face-to-face with one of these furry friends, is to make as much noise as possible don't bend down and back away slowly while facing the animal.

"You want to do these things because it makes you seem bigger than what you are and most likely, the animal will run away," Sergeant Bell said. "If that doesn't work, grab a stick or the nearest object to defend yourself."

While it's important for Airmen to protect themselves, it is also important to protect their cars and the welfare of others.

Just do it
A ground squirrel runs from its tiny hole in the ground, across the street and right in front of a car cruising along California Avenue on base at 35 miles per hour. The person in the second car doesn't realize the squirrels' life is in danger, nor does that person care about the squirrel after it has rear ended the car belonging to the driver who hit the breaks to save that tiny squirrel's life.

Don't slam on your breaks, just run them over, Mr. Hernandez said.

"Ground squirrels are not an endangered species, there are an abundance of them on base and its life is not worth your welfare or the welfare of others," he said.

Ground squirrels aren't the only kamikaze creatures out there boars and deer have also been known to run into base traffic.

"It's important to remember to keep a consistent speed and not to swerve to miss these animals," Mr. Hernandez said. "slowing down may give the animal time to run directly in front of your car instead of bouncing off the side and it also might cause the animal to go through the windshield instead of rolling over the top of the vehicle."

If the animal is unavoidable and ends up as road kill, don't approach it and call the 30th SFS law enforcement desk.

"Injured animals are more defensive and may cause unnecessary injury," Mr. Hernandez said.

Whether it's a confused rattle snake, a kamikaze ground squirrel or a deer on a mission to cross the road, accidents can happen when animal and humans live together.

For more information concerning wild animal safety tips, call the Vandenberg community health office at 606-9473.