Bobcat on the loose after biting hiker in Arizona – and experts fear it may be rabid

Bobcat walking in snow
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Officials have warned hikers to be on the lookout for a bobcat that bit a man at Saguaro National Park in Arizona, and is still on the loose. According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department of Tucson, the animal jumped out and attacked the victim on Sunday unprovoked, pouncing on him four times. He was left with scratches down his body, and a bite on his hand.

"It jumped, latched onto his back and scratched some of his back, he threw it off. It ran back and latched onto his leg, he kicked it off, causing him to fall down," said Mark Hart, the department's public affairs community liaison.

"Then it jumped onto him a third time, bit his hand and jumped onto him a fourth time after he tried to get rid of it."

A bobcat in the latter stage of rabies can be quite aggressive

Mark Hart, Arizona Game and Fish

Although bobcats are common, with up to a million thought to live in the United States, they tend to be shy and elusive. Attacks on people are rare unless the cat is defending its young during the spring, which leads wildlife experts to worry that this unusually aggressive animal may be suffering from rabies.

“A bobcat in the latter stages of rabies can be quite aggressive,” Hart told local news site AZ Central. "They’ll appear as if intoxicated, unsure of their footing, sometimes salivating or extremely thirsty."

Rabies a virus that is usually transmitted through the saliva of infected animals, which can happen through a bite or scratch. The National Park Service (NPS) explains that it is almost always fatal once symptoms develop, but can have an incubation period of weeks or even months, and can be prevented if proper treatment (post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP) is given before the victim becomes symptomatic.

Bobcat safety

If you see a bobcat, experts recommend not approaching it, turning your back, or running. Instead, make a lot of noise using whatever you have (your voice, your hiking whistle and your camping pans will all work) to scare it away. You can also try throwing or spraying water in its direction; like domestic cats, bobcats are known to dislike getting wet. For more advice, see our guide what to do if you see a bobcat while hiking.

If you spot a bobcat lingering near a developed neighborhood, you should call animal control. If you think you have spotted the aggressive animal in Saguaro, you should leave the area before warning others, and call 623-236-7201.

If you have direct or suspected contact with any wild or unfamiliar animal (especially bites of scratches) or wake up with a bat in the room, you should immediately wash any injuries with soap and water, notify a ranger if the incident happened in a National Park, and contact your health provider or local healthcare department to see whether PEP is necessary.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.