Appreciate AZ #6

Respect Wildlife

Arizona’s wildlife is as diverse as its terrain, from the venomous creatures that scurry through the Sonoran Desert to the elk that roam the pine-studded mountains in the northern regions of the state.

Wildlife Encounter Tips Every Nature Lover Should Know

Spotting the elusive Gila monster or the wide-winged condor are epic wildlife-viewing moments. To glimpse Arizona’s wild residents—while ensuring both your safety and theirs—follow these suggestions.

  • Observe quietly from a distance, keeping groups small to avoid scaring animals or forcing them to flee.
  • Never try to feed or pick up a wild animal, which is stressful for them and potentially dangerous for you. If you find a sick or injured animal, contact a game warden.
  • When camping or picnicking, store food and garbage safely (and securely) away from curious animals.
  • Protect your four-legged friend by keeping pets on a leash, or under control, at all times.
  • Stay on existing trails, since creating your own path or cutting switchbacks causes erosion and damages animal habitats.
Kayakers on a river with a wild horse in the background
Lower Salt River, Credit: An Pham

Animals Unique to Arizona

Whether you’re on an urban hike or backpacking through the wilderness, keep an eye out for Arizona’s most interesting creatures.

  • Coyote. Native to the West and one of the more common desert dwellers, the coyote can be seen throughout the state, even in metro areas. Finding them in their natural habitat can be a bit trickier due to their nocturnal habits, but state parks such as Catalina, Lost Dutchman, Red Rock and River Island offer good odds.
  • Javelina. Although it looks similar to a wild boar, the bristly-coated javelina is a collared peccary. They prefer the desert areas of the state, although they range as far north as Flagstaff and the Mogollon Rim. They have poor eyesight and may charge if they feel threatened, so don’t approach them, especially if you’re hiking with a dog.
  • Deer, elk, pronghorn antelope. Mule deer range through the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Their slightly smaller relative, Coues whitetails—unique to Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico—live in Arizona’s southeastern mountains and the woodlands of the Mogollon Rim and White Mountains. Take a trip to the scenic lakes region near Flagstaff and you might see their larger relatives, elk, grazing side-by-side with pronghorns.
Arizona nature, aravaipa canyon
Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, Credit: An Pham
  • Wildcats. Arizona’s wildcat population includes mountain lions and bobcats, and both can be found throughout the state, although they generally avoid humans. If you encounter either of these creatures up close, do not run; back away slowly, wave your arms and make a lot of noise.
  • Ringtail cat. They’re nocturnal, so you’ll need to get lucky to see Arizona’s official state mammal, a relative of the raccoon and coatimundi. Saguaro National Park and riparian canyons are the best bets.
  • Desert reptiles. The Gila (pronounced HEE-la) monster is a venomous lizard that releases poison by biting its prey. The Western diamondback rattlesnake—the largest in Arizona—stretches up to six feet and its desert-hued scales help it blend into the environment. It’s not aggressive, but if it feels attacked, it’ll bite and its poison is lethal. If you see one, typically March through October, do not approach.
  • Birds. Arizona’s list of some 550 bird species is the highest of any state without an ocean coastline. Southeastern Arizona features a dazzling array of birds, from brown-crested flycatchers to curve-billed thrashers, iconic greater roadrunner and elegant trogons. In northern Arizona, birding sites include Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, the Sedona Wetlands Preserve and Kachina Wetlands south of Flagstaff. At Grand Canyon National Park, you can spy osprey, peregrine falcons and rare birds such as the California condor. Near Phoenix, head to the Tres Rios Wetlands—notable birds include the black-necked stilt, double-crested cormorant and American white pelican—or the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, with more than 200 species.
greater roadrunner native arizona bird
Greater roadrunner, Credit: Enrique Noriega

Protecting Arizona’s Wildlife

Two Arizona attractions provide safe sanctuary to animals in need, as well as to those indigenous to the Southwest, while also giving visitors an up-close peek at them and their habitats.

  • Bearizona Wildlife Park, located in Williams, offers drive-through and walking tours through the naturalistic enclosures, where you can see everything from grizzly bears and bison to jaguars and otters. It’s also a home for orphaned and confiscated wildlife: More than 50% are rescued or rehabilitated animals.
  • Keepers of the Wild in Valentine (just northeast of Kingman), is dedicated to protecting abused, neglected, abandoned and retired captive wildlife. Guided tours and feeding tours bring guests in close range to more than 130 wild animals, including lions, tigers and wolves.
A bear in a forest setting
Bearizona Wildlife Park

About the Author

Jake Poinier

Jake Poinier is a veteran freelance writer, editor, and author whose work has appeared in USAToday, Blue Water Sailing, and Golf Illustrated, among numerous other publications. When he's not at his desk writing for corporate clients and editing books, he can probably be found hiking or fishing along the Mogollon Rim, skiing in the White Mountains, or sailing just about anywhere.

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