Although Canada has three bear species, the range of the polar bear is such that it does not usually come into contact with tourists. The American black bear, and the huge grizzly, or brown bear, inhabit areas that people visit. If you’re visiting their habitat, be aware of these bear safety tips.
Bears normally avoid contact with people. Any wild animal that is cornered, threatened or wounded will attack, so the best bear safety method is prevention. Learn about the area and its wildlife before heading out. These bears can run over 40 km/hr so you can’t outrun them. You can’t outswim them either. Learn before you go!
Black and grizzly bears hibernate in the winter. To prepare for this, they eat enormous amounts of food in the autumn, to provide enough fat content to survive denning though the winter. When they emerge from the den in the spring, they are hungry and cantankerous. Cubs are born in the winter den, so emerging females may have cubs with them, which they will defend vigorously.
THERE IS A REASON SIGNS SAY DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR CAR
Living as we do, tucked up against the Rocky Mountains, our blood boils when we see tourists wandering around, taking pictures of bears beside the highway without a care in the world. These are not cuddly little teddy bears – they are wild animals. They are HUGE wild animals who know how to defend themselves. In any altercation with a human, the animal is killed. Is that worth the price of a picture? One you can get just as easily by lowering your window?
Black bears can be found across Canada, with the exception of the dry prairies. They inhabit coniferous and deciduous forests, as well as swamps and berry patches. Male black bears are larger than females. Average measurements of males are 1.7 metres long, and up to 270 kg in weight. Females are smaller than males at 140 kg.
Grizzly bears are now found in western Alberta, much of British Columbia and up into the Yukon. They inhabit more open areas than the black bear, and prefer alpine tundra and subalpine forests of the Rocky Mountains. Although popularly called grizzly bears, they are also known as brown or kodiak bears. They have been known to measure 2.6 metres in length. Adults weigh between 140 to 550 kg.
Prevention is Better Than Confrontation
If you are camping in bear country, it is vital you keep a clean campsight. Something as innocuous as a tube of chapstick can entice a bear to come in search of food. Hanging your food and garbage between trees at a height unreachable to bears – at least 10 feet – is a common procedure, although some bears climb trees.
An excellent alternative to hanging items from trees is to use a bear canister, or other sealed, hard-bodied container. Plastic bags will not prevent the bear from smelling the contents, and they will have no problem ripping them open.
Before heading out, try thinking from the bear’s point of view. Campers put papaya-honey-herbal-vanilla-citrus shampoo or body lotion on. What do you think a bear, with their excellent sense of smell, is going to think of when he smells that?
Be aware of your surroundings at all times, and recognize the signs of bear presence in the area. Fresh diggings or fallen logs torn up and high claw marks on trees indicate bear presence. Any strong odour of animal carcasses means you should leave the area immediately, as bears may be feeding nearby.
Make noise when travelling in dense bush or other places where visibility is limited. Whistle, sing, talk loudly – anything to advertise your presence in the area. ‘Bear bells’ are generally useless as their sound does not travel far. Carrying pepper spray may make you feel safer, but its use is limited to attacking bears.
Hike during the daylight hours, not at dusk and dawn when the bears are most active.
Watch for hair on the trees. Bears rub against trees with rough bark to scratch themselves. The higher the hair on the the tree, the bigger the bear. They will sometimes stand on their back legs to scratch on the tree.
During the heat of the day, bears rest in daybeds. These can be shallow depressions of piled up leaves, trampled vegetation, a shallow scrape or a hole. Daybeds are usually located in cool places, and are often located along streams and rivers. Daybeds are often associated with feeding places and should be avoided.
When In Bear Country
Actively work to avoid and prevent bear encounters. Before heading out into the field, educate yourself about bears and bear safety. When dealing with bears, there are no set rules. Every bear will react differently; their reaction depends upon their previous experience with humans.
There are Two Types of Bear Attack:
- You have done something that has provoked the bear into show signs of aggression towards you. It is often not clear to the person what they have done to provoke the bear until after the attack.
- It is important that you act passively, humble your posture and do not look directly at the bear. Always keep the bear in sight.
- Lie down on the ground in the prone position, i.e. play dead, or climb a tree, these are both signs of submission to the bear and shows the bear that you are no longer a threat to them.
- Never yell at the bear or throw things at them, these are obvious signs of aggression.
- The bear is hunting or stalking you. You are being treated as potential food. DO NOT PLAY DEAD IF THE BEAR CONSIDERS YOU FOOD
- You must defend yourself with whatever means are available, act aggressively towards the bear. Stand up on something high and try and make yourself look bigger.
- Try to appear dominant. Try to frighten the bear. Yell, scream, shout and wave your arms. Jump up and down and fight back. Hold your jacket or backpack over your head to make yourself look bigger.
- Use your deterrent; either a banger or pepper spray.
As noted above, there are no hard and fast rules when dealing with bear attacks. Prevention is always better than confrontation.