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What Not to do During a Bear Attack

Coronavirus.  Riots in the inner cities.  Murder Hornets.  Having to listen to Jerry Nadler. It seems like 2020 has thrown everything at us so far.  One thing you might not have heard about, however, is the unusually high number of bear attacks that have taken place so far in 2020. 

According to officials, as of July 24 there have been a total of seven encounters with bears in the three state greater Yellowstone region this year (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) that have resulted in human injury.  According to Frank van Manen of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, the first six months of any given year only produce a single such incident.  This number doesn’t even include bear encounters in other regions of the country which are on the rise as well.

While no one specific reason for this increase is given, it is thought that a large part of it is the increase in people recreating outdoors due to many indoor activities being closed down from the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. 

Van Manen said, “We don’t have the numbers yet, but we know there have been a lot of recreationists out on public lands.”  These recreationists include hikers, cyclists, birdwatchers, motor vehicle enthusiasts, kayakers swimmers, and many others.

This development in bear encounters has led the U.S. National Parks Service to issue advice on what to do if you encounter a bear.  Apparently, someone at the agency has a sense of humor as one piece of their advice told recreationists in a serious but not serious way not to push down their slower friends so as to give themselves more time to escape. 

This particular piece of advice drew considerable attention on social media.  One reader on Twitter commented that it wasn’t the slower friends that would need to be pushed down, but rather the faster friends.  Another commented that there is no need to push the slower ones down, nature would take its own course once the running started.

Comedy aside though, there was some serious advice posted to the National Parks Service website that anyone spending time in an outdoor region inhabited by bears should be aware of.  These include several “Do Nots.” 

First, do not run.  Like dogs, this will tempt the bears to chase you. 

Do not climb a tree to get away.  Bears are well known for their ability to climb.

Do not feed bears.  This will get them used to human presence and increase future encounters. 

Additionally, they include in their advice a list of things you can do in the event of a bear encounter.  Most importantly, stay calm (I know, how do you stay calm if you’re face-to-face with a bear?).  Help the bear identify you as human by using your voice.  Move slowly and sideways.  Pick up small children.  Stay in groups.  Perhaps most important, stay away from females with cubs.

There are three types of bears that inhabit North America that are worth noting.  First is the black bear which is by far the most numerous and most widespread.  The black bear inhabits large parts of Appalachia in the eastern U.S. as well as the west coast and a large region of the Rocky Mountains in the west.

Second is the Grizzly bear, considerably larger and more dangerous than the black bear, but not as common.  Grizzlies occupy only a small portion of the Rocky Mountains in the lower 48 but are more plentiful throughout Alaska and Canada. 

Finally, the Polar Bear, even larger than the Grizzly.   Additionally, they can be more aggressive toward humans because their habitat in the arctic means they have less contact with humans.  Furthermore, the Polar Bear’s diet is far more meat based than the other two which rely on nuts and berries to a greater extent. This increases the likelihood of them viewing humans as prey.

In regard to the black bear and the Grizzly bear, the government has issued two separate sets of recommendations if attacked by them.  For the black bear, they suggest that you do NOT play dead.  Rather, it is recommended that you attempt to escape to a secure location like a car or building.  If you must fight back, concentrate your attacks toward the face or muzzle of the bear. 

In the case of Grizzlies, it is recommended that you DO play dead.  Do this by laying on your stomach and clasping your hands behind your head and neck.  Spread your legs out so it’s more difficult for them to flip you over.  If you have a pack on, leave it there.  Fight back only when there is no other option.

Additionally, it helps to understand a bear’s body language.  A bear who stands up straight is usually curious, but not threatening.  However, if a bear yawns or clacks its teeth and pounds its front paws on the ground, he is usually giving you warning signs.  A sign that he is getting ready to charge is if the head is down and the ears are back.  According to the National Parks Service, a bear will come at you like a freight train.     

A lot of these recommendations seem like common sense.  But for city dwellers in the country, common sense is quickly abandoned when an encounter with a wild animal commences. 


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