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Do You Know What To Do To Avoid Bear Attacks

Although bear attacks on people are rare, and fatalities are even more rare. They seem to be happening more frequently. Still, bears are immense, powerful wild animals, and any meeting between bears and humans can potentially turn deadly. Do you know what to do if you find yourself face to face with a bear?

1. Avoid close encounters. If you can prevent an encounter with a bear, the rest of the steps are unnecessary. Bears are reclusive creatures, and they generally prefer to steer clear of humans. You can help them to do so by announcing your presence when you’re exploring their home environment: talk loudly, sing, or carry "bear bells" so bears have time to escape you. Read up on bear behaviour to decide which of the "noise" methods you are comfortable with as there are different views by professionals on the effectiveness of making noise. Be sure to heed local bear advisories and practice proper food storage techniques while camping, and try to hike in open areas so that a bear can see you (or you can see it) from a distance. Leave dogs at home or keep them leashed. If you see bear tracks, make a detour or leave the area. Avoid surprising bears.

2. Keep your distance. If you see a bear from a long distance (greater than 300 feet), leave the area. If you need to continue on, make a wide detour around the bear. If the bear has not seen you, do not disturb it: retreat calmly and quietly, and then make ample noise when you are well away to prevent future chance encounters. If the bear sees you, begin speaking in a low, calm voice (it doesn’t matter what you say) and retreat slowly, keeping an eye on the bear but avoiding direct eye contact. Your goal is to communicate to the bear that you are human (i.e. that you can defend yourself and are not frightened) while also letting it know that you are non-threatening, and that you are leaving its territory.

3. Stand tall, even if the bear charges you. If the bear sees you and is closer than 300 feet, or if the bear is approaching you, remain calm and try to look as large as possible. Stand your ground and try not to look frightened. Try to back away slowly—do not run—and speak softly. If the bear continues to approach as you back away, stop and stand your ground. Speak more loudly in a deep, calm voice, and wave you arms to make yourself look bigger. Keep an eye on the bear, but avoid direct eye contact, this can be interpreted as a challenge by the bear. Do not be aggressive, but do not crouch down, play dead or otherwise show fear or vulnerability. If the bear charges you, muster all your courage and stay where you are: the charge is most likely a bluff, and if you stand your ground the bear will turn away.

4. Know your bear. The steps you take to survive an encounter with a bear will depend in part on the type of bear. North America has three kinds of bears: brown bears, black bears, and polar bears. Polar bears, of course, are easily recognizable, and their range is limited to the far northern latitudes. Grizzlies and black bears cannot necessarily be differentiated by their colors. Grizzly bears can weigh up to and over 800 lbs., and they are distinguished by a prominent shoulder hump and a rump lower than the shoulder. Black bears are typically smaller (up to 400 lbs.), and have a rump higher than or at roughly the same level as the shoulder. If you see tracks, grizzly bears have claw marks well separated from the paw imprints, while black bears’ claw marks will be quite close to the paw imprint.

5. Understand the bear's motivations. A little bear psychology can go a long way—your response to an attack should be shaped by the bear’s motivations. First, if a bear appears to be stalking you (disappearing and reappearing, for example), or if a bear attacks at night, it most likely sees you as food, and any attack will be predatory. If you surprise a bear on the trail, if the bear has cubs, or if the bear is eating from or protecting a carcass, the bear will most likely be acting in self-defense.

6. Respond appropriately based on the situation:

  • If a grizzly or polar bear makes a non-predatory attack: Play dead. If the bear (other than a black bear) is attacking you in self-defense, you can put it at ease (and possibly save yourself) by playing dead by lying completely flat on the ground. Do so only after the bear makes contact with you or tries to do so. (In the past, bear experts recommended that one fall to the ground in a fetal position but researchers have since proven that doing this only allows the bear to easily flip over the human in question.) To play dead, lie flat on the ground protecting your vital parts with the ground, and your arms protecting your neck with your hands laced behind the neck. Keep your legs together and do not struggle. Once the bear leaves your immediate vicinity, wait several minutes before carefully looking to see if the bear is still around. A bear may look back and may return if it sees you moving.
  • If any bear makes a predatory attack or you receive any attack from a black bear: Fight back. Fight a black bear attack or any predatory attack. If the bear is a black bear, or if you have determined that the bear sees you as food (this is actually quite rare, and more common with black bears and, some say, polar bears than with grizzlies), your only chance of escape is to fight it or scare it away. Hit the bear with rocks, pots, pans, sticks or fists—anything handy. The odds may seem against you in a fight, but bears generally do not see humans as prey, and a bear that makes a predatory attacks is usually immature, starving, or wounded, and may easily be scared away if you hit it.

Consider last minute escape techniques:

  • Climb a tree only under the right circumstances. Black bears are adept climbers, so climbing a tree will do you no good with one of them. Grizzlies, too, can climb a little, and they can reach up to 12 feet into the tree from the ground. Only consider climbing a tree if you encounter a grizzly and you are confident you can make it well up (at least 15 feet, but preferably 30 feet) into a sturdy tree by the time the bear reaches you. Bears are incredibly fast, so do not try to race a bear to a tree—you will lose. This approach is usually only viable if you are right next to the tree, and you’re a good climber.
  • Sidestep advances if they're closing in within a relatively short distance (<8 feet). Bears and other 4 legged animals have a wider center of gravity, and hence can't make turns quite as sharp as you or me. Don't just run in circles however, but if engaged in an open area (plains or field), do not run directly away from the bear as they're generally faster. Move left and right where applicable to force the bear to change direction. Do not abuse the bear, however, as it drains vital energy.

 

Why Bears are attacking people

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