Despite the centuries-long extermination campaigns that took place in many countries all over the world, there are still places highly populated by bears and other large carnivores. In Europe we can name the Balkans, the Carpathians, the Eastern Alps, the Central Apennines, Scandinavia and the Cantabrian Mountains, while in North America they can be found in Alaska, Canada and in some natural parks such as Yellowstone.
Human beings who live or travel there must pay particular attention to keep safe, limit the conflicts and avoid to run unnecessary risks.
Respect and knowledge are the necessary starting points of the relationship between man and animal but, in case of large predators, additional awareness is needed: both tourists and residents have to be always bear-aware in bear country.
Bears normally occupy very extensive areas and meet face-to-face infrequently. Furthermore, like any other wild animal, also the bear does not like to be caught by surprise, and avoiding this factor is already an excellent way of reducing the probability of conflict.
Here are some tips:
- In bear country, do not hike alone. It’s always better to hike in small groups. If possible, stay on maintained trails and do not hike off-trail.
- Make noise, so as to announce your presence even before the bear can see you, especially if you are in a dense vegetation/blind spot or in an area with poor visibility. Furthermore, consider that a bear that's feeding may not see you as quickly as you would think. Watch for fresh tracks, scat, and feeding sites. If a bear doesn't see you, keep out of sight and detour as far as possible behind and downwind of the bear. If the bear sees you, retreat slowly and leave the area.
- Keep the dogs on the leash.
- Carry a bear spray, keep it ready in your hands and use it in case of emergency. If the bear charges you, start spraying the bear when it is about 60 feet away or less. The bear spray is usually commonly found in bear countries. Otherwise you can also find it online
- If you have food and drink with you, make sure they are sealed in bear-resistant containers. Bears are extremely greedy and have an excellent sense of smell: it is wise to avoid attracting them with smells they like. It is therefore inadvisable also to eat or make a picnic in bear-country, especially in a dense vegetation area.
- If you come across a bear, never approach it. Slowly back away without running, shouting or making sudden movement. Running may trigger a pursuit predation response in the bear.
None of us knows what our reaction could be in case of close encounter with a bear: as long as it does not happen, we can not predict our behavior. On some travel guides and specialized websites there are several safety tips, some of which are however difficult to imagine, like the following:
- Stand your ground and make yourself look bigger by raising your arms and jacket. Try to appear strong and dominant, possibly using a firm tone of voice (but without challenging it). The bear is sensitive to hierarchy and is able to understand if you are self-confident and in control of the situation. Back away only when the bear stops its approach.
- While camping, do not store food in your tent, cook far away from the tent and don’t sleep in clothes you wore when cooking. If the bear attacks while you are in the tent, fight back with anything in hand.
We have seen these tips a bit everywhere, but honestly we do not know how they can applicable in such a shocking and unpredictable situation.
How to understand if the bear is in distress?
Bears are generally shy animals. They prefer to avoid humans if not attracted by food or other things that stimulate their curiosity. Obviously there are many behavioral differences between different types of bears: black bears, for example, are usually more tolerant of the human presence than grizzlies.
In any case, it is necessary to observe carefully its posture and listen to the sounds that it emits to understand its state of irritation, that normally starts when it stands its ground with frontal orientation and maintains direct eye contact. The first line of defence for a bear may be explosive blowing with clacking teeth or to bluff charge their opponent (a full-tilt run, stopping short at the last minute).
Another display is blowing with a short lunge and slapping the ground or an object.
If you want to know more about the preventive measures that residents of territories populated by bears must adopt, read HERE.