Bumping into a grumpy grizzly bear is certainly not most people’s idea of a fun time but here’s the good news: the risk is much lower than you probably think.
By following a few simple precautions and using good sense, hopefully the scariest animals you’ll encounter will be ravenous mosquitoes! Still, you can’t out-pedal a bear or a cougar (they can run at 35 miles an hour, uphill and downhill) so what should you do?
First, stay calm. While black bears, grizzly bears and even cougars are found in many forest areas of America and Canada, they tend to be quite shy and have a natural fear of humans.
In undeveloped areas, where bears have not learned to associate humans with a source of food, animals are mostly likely to run as soon as it detects your presence. If you are really lucky, you might just see its tail end disappearing into the woods.
A greater risk comes in tourist areas like Yellowstone National Park and the ski resorts of the Rocky Mountains. In places like this, bears are used to being fed by tourists and have discovered that they can find food in garbage cans.
Whenever you are in bear or cougar country, there are some simple tips you can follow to keep safe:
- Don’t camp near sources of food for bears like berry patches or rivers full of fish.
- Keep your camp clean of any debris or garbage.
- Don’t sleep in clothes that you wore while cooking fish or meat.
- Cook at least 100 meters away from your tent.
- Put your food and toiletries in bear-proof boxes (available at some campgrounds) or hang it in a tree. Do this by tying a string around a rock, slinging the rock and string over a high branch and then using the string to hoist your bags into the air.
- Have some bear spray at hand.
- Pay attention if the authorities put out a bear warning.
- Never approach a bear if you see one.
- Don’t take a dog into bear country. They can antagonize the bears.
By doing these things, you’re very unlikely to see a bear but if you do:
- Change your route so you move away from the bear.
- If the bear comes closer, stay calm and slowly back away.
- If the bear continues to approach, shout and act aggressively.
- If you are attacked by a black bear use bear spray. Fight back using anything at hand. This could be your fists, sticks, rocks or your bike lock!
- If a grizzly bear or cougar attacks, use bear spray or play dead. Drop to the ground. Lay flat on your stomach. Clasp your hands together behind your neck and brace yourself with your elbows and toes. If you have a backpack, leave it on. Stay still until the bear leaves the area.
More information can be found on the Bear Aware safety website.