Bear attacks facts and advice 2017-04-27T02:42:53+00:00

Bear Attacks, Advice and Information

A Kodiak (Brown) Bear in Alaska, with rapidly retreating photographer!

A Kodiak (Brown) Bear in Alaska, with rapidly retreating photographer!

The Bear Facts

In British Columbia, Canada there are around seven attacks a year on average with about one fatality every two years. Grizzlies account for half of these despite there being ten times as many Black Bears.

One swipe of a paw can disembowel or decapitate a man.

Starving bears are particularly dangerous animals, and much of this is through our own doing. For instance the small and normally passive Sun Bear of Borneo, Indonesia has recently started launching itself at people. Logging and non-fruiting of their trees are blamed for their recent aggression.

North America and Canada are the best areas for bear viewing but Russia is also a possible destination for the larger bears.

Bears standing on their hind legs are probably just checking you out, not planning on lunch, so be cool and slowly back off.


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.

Avoiding Attacks

There are two kinds of attacks

1) Defense – where you surprise or upset the animal, perhaps a mother with cubs. In this case it will show anger, but simply wants you removed as a threat, not to kill you.

2) Hunger- where the critter sees you as meat and two legs. It may stalk you and will not display anger symtoms, but it’s intent is deadly.

So the bear necessities are. . .

• Pack your food in airtight containers, and/or store it at least 50ft (18m) from your campsite.

• Never feed wild animals.

• Avoid areas where bears feed such as fruit groves and streams with fish.

• Do not hike alone, and MAKE NOISE when on the move – whistling/singing/talking – so the bear is not surprised by you.

• Carry a bear repellent spray with you if you can get it. It’s apparently effective 75% of the time.

• Never approach or get between  a mother bear or her cubs.

• If the animal has yet to see you and is wandering by or is up on its hind legs sniffing the air but still has not noticed you, stay absolutely still and make no noise whatsoever, or leave the scene very quietly if you think you can without being spotted.
If the bear does see you it will probably not bother you anyway.

• Never run from a bear. They can run much faster than you (up to 30mph) and running may trigger a chase response from the animal that would otherwise not bother.

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.