Human behaviour

Human behavior in bear country

Here you will find important information regarding human behavior during encounters with brown and grizzly bears. I also offer workshops and multimedia shows about staying safe around bears. Please contact me if you are interested.

 

Compared to the North American grizzly, the European brown bear is considered to be even less dangerous during encounters with humans. The risk of being attacked by a grizzly  or brown bear here in North America is low and in Europe even lower! And yet you have to be prepared for such potentially dangerous encounters.

Main reasons for conflict situations

The following three situations can lead to a conflict with a grizzly or brown bear. Most of these situations can be traced back to a close range surprise encounter. In this case, the bear's reaction can be described as defensive-aggressive behavior, in which the animal attacks in order to defend something.

  1. Mother with cubs (defending the cubs)

  2. Feeding bear (defending its food source)

  3. Single bear (defending itself as it feels cornered because of the immediate surroundings) 

Surprise Encounter

Surprise encounters are largely the result of silently walking in a densely vegetated or wooded landscape or along a rushing stream. In 9 out of 10 cases the bear flees before you can react. If the bear doesn't flee during such an encounter:

 Behaviour 1:

  • Bear does not flee but does not attack (it could simply be habituated!)

  • Never run from a bear!

  • Back up slowly, without facing away from the bear

  • Speak to Bear in a calm voice - avoid eye contact

  • As soon as there is a distance of approx. 150 meters, you can either enjoy the observation for a few more minutes (as long as the bear is obviously not stressed) or you can move away and possibly report the encounter to the authorities if unusual or highly defensive behavior was observed.

 

Bluff charge

Bluff or false charges are mostly following a surprise encounter at close range in which the bear runs straight towards you at a high speed, but interrupts the attack beforehand and veers off. In rare cases the bluff charges are repeated.

 Behaviour 2:

  • Stand your ground, avert your gaze, speak to the bear in a calm voice - don't forget, this is a defensive maneuver, so it is important to make it clear to the bear in this situation with your behavior that you are not a threat to what he or she is trying to protect.

  • Usually these situations are over so quickly that you don't have time to react - not even to react incorrectly. Never run from a bear!

  • If there is enough time and you can react fast enough, it is advisable to remove the safety of your pepper spray and, if necessary, spray a small “cloud” of cayenne towards the bear.

Bluff charge ending with contact

In very, very rare cases, a bear pulls through during a bluff charge, resulting in physical contact. For the most part, these attacks last a few seconds. Our behavior must show the bear that we are not a threat to what he or she is trying to protect.

 Behaviour 3:

  • Drop to the ground when body contact is imminent

  • Try taking a position lying on your stomach, legs apart, hands folded behind your neck - play dead and lie still

  • Remain in this position long enough until the bear has safely moved away - moving too early can trigger another attack.

  • It is advisable to use the pepper spray during such an encounter, if you have the time to do so.​

 

Prevention

  • Preventing such surprise encounters by behaving correctly is probably the most important piece of information I can provide in order to make your and the bears’ life safer.

  • So above all, avoid surprise encounters at close range - in dense bushes, next to rushing water and where you would expect bears, make loud noises (human voice is best), so as not to surprise the bear.

  • Hike in groups if that makes you feel better

  • Always keep dogs leashed or leave them at home.

  • Carry pepper spray and know how to use it

  • Educate yourself. Learn about bears, their behavior and their habitat.

Bear Viewing Etiquette
It is in the interest of all people involved in bear viewing activities, that a proper viewing etiquette is in place.  As a first priority it is imperative to maintain the integrity of our natural resources, to respect the wildlife and their habitat, and if applicable, to encourage visitors to be respectful of traditional knowledge and beliefs.  With this in mind, probably one of the more important rules to follow while viewing bears and other wildlife, is to attempt at all times to view animals without changing their behavior. 

Bear viewing can be conducted in a safe and sustainable fashion for both bears and people, as it has been shown for many decades in places such as McNeil River Game Sanctuary and many other places worldwide.

The following guidelines are closely respected on all of my excursions where applicable and I recommend anyone to learn them inside out so that they can be applied at any time if you happen to be out in the wild without a guide.

  • At all times be aware that you are in the domain of the bear and other wildlife and that we share the wild spaces with them.  Please act respectfully.

  • Never feed any bears or any other wildlife.

  • Please do not try to get the bears attention by yelling or throwing things to get a better photo opportunity.

  • Normally we will not approach bears but let them make the choice if they want to come closer or not.  So please be patient and enjoy the privilege.

  • Bring good binoculars or a spotting scope, which may allow you to get a better look in case animals are staying at a distance.

  • If applicable, we will stay on designated trails whenever possible

  • We will try at all times not to alter the bears activity patterns.  Never forget that we’re out there for fun and to learn.  The bears are trying to survive!

  • Generally we do not flee or move away from an approaching bear.  Bears are often as curious as we are and just want to take a better look.

  • Do never approach a small and young looking bear. It may be a cub with its mother near by.

  • Please leave your pet at home.  It may startle or scare bears and other wildlife.

Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, one will not find peace himself.

Albert Schweizer