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Black Bear Attacks

 

 

SOME SAY FATAL BLACK BEAR ATTACKS ARE VERY RARE

BUT BLACK BEARS WILL OFTEN BLUFF CHARGE

 

National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection

Photographer Unknown, 1950's

Great Smoky Mountains National Park


 

To see a very revealing (and uncomfortable) list of bear attacks through the decades, visit this webpage:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fatal_bear_attacks_in_North_America - there have been more than we thought.

 

Some say that black bears rarely attack humans unprovoked, that is, unless we give them a reason to turn on us, they will usually go on their way and not bother with us - as happens with most wild animals. Humans are not the focus of a bear's day. The temperament of a black bear is such that they are very tolerant of humans. We have witnessed humans harassing a wild black bear by yelling, throwing rocks at it, and even walking up to a tree with a bear in it, and shaking the tree trying to get the bear to react. The most we have seen a black bear do with impolite people is to swat a branch in the direction of the person, huff or pop their jaws, or bluff charge. They can take a lot of abuse from people and do nothing. Frankly, from what we have seen of wild bears, they have better manners than people. Under typical circumstances, black bears will be content to eat wild foods such as berries, fruits, nuts, grasses, and honey, as well as little animals.

Normally, black bears do not just randomly and casually attack people for no reason. Now and then, like with other wild animals, something goes wrong, and a black bear attacks a person. What makes a black bear want to attack a person?

Why black bears attack people:

> Person attempts to pet or feed or otherwise gets too close to a wild bear
> Person attempts to chase off or scare a wild bear
> Person startles a wild bear or walks too close to babies or den or food source
> Wild bear is hungry
 
According to Dr. Stephen Herrero (see his book "Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance" in our book section under 'LEARN") in the period between 1900 and 1980 only twenty people were involved in a fatal black bear attack. Of those, ten were under age eighteen, and of those, five of those were under age ten. The other ten killed were nine men and one woman, all adults. Further, Dr. Herrero says, of those twenty fatalities, eighteen appear to be from predaceous black bears, meaning, they viewed humans as prey and attacked for food. [Reference: Page 91, "Bear Attacks...."]

 

After seeing the website article referenced above, this list may be incomplete!

We will be updating soon........after more research.........

Since 1980 there have been approximately 32 deaths by black bears - 13 of those occurred since the year 2000.

> May 2000, Tennessee: An adult female hiker was killed by a black bear and her yearling cub in Great Smoky Mountains National Park - the bears were found and killed; termed a predatory attack

> July 2000, Quebec: An adult woman athlete was killed while jogging

> June 2001, Northwest Territory: A boy was killed while camping

> August 2001, New Mexico: An elderly woman was killed by a black bear in her home

> August 2002, New York: A five-month-old baby was killed; termed a predatory attack

> September 2002, Quebec: An adult male was killed at his campsite

> September 2002, British Columbia: An adult male was killed at an oil rig

> April 2003, Quebec: A forestry worker (man) was killed by a large male black bear

> April 2005, Northwest Territories: An elderly man was killed at a fishing camp

> August 2005, Manitoba: An adult man was killed while picking fruit

> August 2005, Ontario: An adult woman was killed, her husband seriously injured; termed a  predatory attack

> April 2006, Tennessee: A six-year-old girl was killed in Cherokee National Forest; termed a predatory attack

> June 2007, Utah: An 11-year-old boy was killed in American Fork Canyon; termed a predatory attack; person was dragged out of a tent

> July 2007, British Columbia: A 31-year-old woman on a bicycle was attacked and killed by a black bear near Invermere

> June 2008, Quebec: A 70-year-old grandmother was attacked and killed by a black bear near the Theo River; the bear was not found

 

[Thank you to Dr. Stephen Herrero for confirming statistics prior to 2007 for this article.]

While most bear attacks can be explained, there are those that can point only to predatory behavior by the bear. Predatory behavior means the bear stalked a person that it viewed as its prey, with the intent to kill and eat. This happens very rarely, but it does happen. One bear attack listed above, involving a school teacher that was hiking in the Smokies in 2000, was one such attack. When help arrived, the two bears were guarding their kill and were reluctant to leave.

 

Many bear attacks are initiated in self-defense or fear by the bear, and many can be avoided if people understand bears and what can precipitate a bear attack.

 

More and more instances of people entering bear territory greatly increase the chances for a bear encounter. Sometimes there is no apparent reason for a bear attack that has happened, sometimes the bear was drawn in by the smell of food, or a baby crying, sometimes the person came too close to the bear or its babies, or there may be other reasons.

Of the attacks listed above, only 4 occurred in the United States. If we look at the great numbers of black bears, and the great numbers of people hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, walking, swimming, cycling and driving through wild areas, national parks, state parks, refuges, management areas, etc., that is an amazingly low number of fatal encounters. The risk is very, very low.

 

We have hiked in the southern Appalachians for several years, and we have met many black bears. Our overall impression of black bears is not the scary beast of nightmares, but rather a very beautiful North American animal that deserves our respect. We have seen black bear behavior that has indicated the bears were very tolerant and patient creatures: however, we were not lulled into a false sense of security and did not get close. Wild bears should not be approached or fed. To do so is foolish and would probably result in the same reaction that any wild animal would have.

 

Learn To Read Black Bear Body Language

Understanding bears is important if we are going to deal with them and reduce bear/human conflicts. Reading the body language of a black bear could save its (or your) life. After hiking and observing wild bears for several years, the following is what we have noticed to be some of the unspoken language of black bears.  Most of the time, if a black bear does these things, it is scared or does not know what to make of you.

 

 

Please note, however, that bears rarely make a noise

when they are stressed - if you meet a bear in the woods

please do not think you can "read" a bear's motives or actions.

Always assume that a bear may be dangerous.

We have seen black bears charge with

NO CHANGE to their facial expressions, ears, or stance!

 

 

Black Bear Body Language That Signals Stressed (possibly aggressive) Behavior

 

- Black bear keeps following you and does not seem to want to leave

- Black bear is not interested in your food or backpack, but follows you instead

- Black bear does a wallowing motion with back legs while standing in one spot, 4 paws on the ground

- Black bear appears to stomp hard while walking

- Black bear swats the ground or an object such as a tree

- Black bear pops its jaw, clicking its teeth, making a noise

- Black bear makes a noise that sounds like humma-humma-humma

- Black bear runs toward you (oftentimes a bluff charge)

- Black bear is pacing back and forth (he could be protecting his food)

 

Black Bear Body Language That Signals Non-Stressed (non-aggressive) Behavior

 

- Black bear stands up on hind legs: black bears and grizzlies do this to appear larger when threatened or scared, or to simply get a better look around

- Black bear appears in a people-populated area: bears do this to seek out easy food in urban areas

- Black bear is seen running in another direction: he is scared of you or chasing a small animal

- Black bears are seen standing up wrestling and hitting: cubs and sub-adults play with each other very hard

- Black bear suddenly climbs a tree when noticing you: he is scared of you

- Black bear send her cubs up a tree: she is scared of you and protecting her babies

- Black bear watches you: bears are very curious and cautious

- Black bear sniffs toward you: he's just reading the wind 

 

The more we understand about black bears, the more easily we will be able to live near them.  Black bears are commonly elusive and usually go on their way, not bothering anyone.

 

To understand more about black bear behavior and how to stay safe in bear country, go to LEARN  then "Black Bears" on this website.

 

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