A Kodiak (Brown) Bear in Alaska, with rapidly retreating photographer!
Bear attacks happen fairly frequently, probably because they can look cuddly and many people associate bears with teddies, Yogi or Baloo, and don’t give these powerful, deadly predators enough respect.
The people involved usually get more than just a hug.
Polar Bear- the largest land based carnivore. They can drag whales out of holes in the ice and stamp on seal lairs until they collapse. They are probably the most dangerous bear but there isn’t much dumb human food around.
The best place to see polar bears close-up is with the extremely experienced people of Churchill, Manitoba in Canada – see Arctic Circle.
Brown or ‘Grizzly’ Bear- not as big as its polar cousin but still big enough to kill a man with a single swipe of its paw. However these bears tend to attack humans only if startled or with young.
If touched by a Grizzly, curl into a ball and play ‘dead’. If it continues to attack, fight back.
Black Bear- close, smaller relatives of the brown animals. These critters rarely attack humans, but will if they are starving.
Because they are relatively small, extreme aggression is the best tactic with this animal.
Playing ‘dead’ with black bears does NOT work.
What to do if a bear approaches
• If it approaches slowly experts suggest two differing ploys. Try either or both:
• Talk calmly and firmly, back away, don’t make eye contact, don’t threaten it in any way and it may lose interest. If not:
• Be aggressive, make a noise, wave your hands.
• If it does run at you and is up on its hind legs making unpleasant noises including puffing, teeth chomping, and snarling then here are your options:
• It may be a ‘bluff’ charge, which is not uncommon, in which case the critter will veer off or stop at the last moment if you stay still. Then slowly back away.
• Run to safety* – if you are absolutely sure that you can reach it in time before the creature. These animals can travel at the speed of a top sprinter.
Trees are not a good refuge. Black bears climb them all day long and so do young brown bears. Older grizzlies are proficient tree shakers. Polar bears live in the Arctic Circle where trees are thin on the ice.
Water is equally useless. Brown and Polar bears love water, are excellent swimmers and will not get hypothermia or drown as a result of taking a cold dip, unlike you. Try your car or a hut.
• Roll up in a ball, protect vital organs and pretend to be dead if it’s a Grizzly/Brown Bear, fight back if it’s a Black Bear. Bears who do not want to eat you may roll around on you for a bit, or just go away. If the bear is not showing anger – just hunger – this may not be a good choice!
• Spray pepper in its face. Just like humans, a painful spray in the eyes, works wonders against a bear 75% of the time. However their tolerance for pain may be such, that after just a few seconds they shrug it off and attack once more, even angrier, though more cautious.
Extra potent long range bear deterrents are now available.
• Fight back. It’s probably not worth trying this option with a Polar or Grizzly in your face unless you have some kind of weapon, but a black bear may be put off his food by efficient ultra-violence.
Bottom Line – there is no 100% defence. Avoidance is best.