Information in this article was compiled from articles from Scott Montague (Ontario Parks), the Parks Canada pamphlet "You
are in Bear Country", the BC Ministry of the Environment pamphlet "Safety Guide to Bears in the Wild"
and Backpacker Magazine's article "The Blend-In
Bears are magnificent animals, they are wonderful to watch but they are
also wild animals that demand your respect. Strong and
agile, they will defend themselves, their young and their territory if
they feel threatened. Knowledge and alertness can help you
avoid a dangerous encounter with a bear. All bears are potentially
dangerous. They are unpredictable and can inflict serious injury.
Because of the danger, NEVER feed or approach a bear. It is unlawful to
entice, or feed bears in national parks - this is to protect
both you and the animals.
This article contains some interesting bear facts, information on the biology of the black bear
and the grizzly bear as well as several suggestions for minimizing the potential for black bear/human interaction.
Bears are an important part of the eco-system and are worthy of
continued protection. For many people, seeing a bear is the highlight
of their trip.
- You are more likely to get struck by lightning or killed by a bee sting than being attacked by a bear.
- Bears can be found in almost all areas within the temperate zones on earth. (In case you forget your geography... the temperate
zone is the region between the Tropics and the Circles... That is between Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle, and between
the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
- Everyone knows that bears like honey... so much in fact that bears can attack a bee hive and eat everything-- including the
bees! One report shows that a bear had nearly 2 liters (quarts) of bees in it's stomach!
- When bears become nuisances (usually due to unknowledgable campers) they have to be caught in live traps and taken to other
areas that have been selected by biologists to be "bear friendly" and hospitable. However, bears don't always like to be moved,
and so it's not unusual for them to wonder back 50 km (30 miles) or so. One bear has actually wondered back 160km (100 miles) to
his home range!
- Biologists estimate the current polar bear population to be 20,000. There may be up to 500,000 black bears left, say biologists.
- Each bear has a different temperament... sort of like humans.
Some bears will attack, others will not. Some bears are scared
of humans, others have a natural curiosity. (But still don't try to get
too friendly with a bear that seems nice, just like people
it can have a nasty streak :-) ).
- Black bears come in different shapes and sizes... and colours! While they were named for their colour, they can also be brown,
cinnamon, and black with white patches on their chest. (Maybe they're trying to give up smoking? :-) ).
Smallest member of the North American bear family. Usually has straight facial profile and tapered nose with long nostrils. Feet
are flat-soled with short curved claws. Smaller than grizzly and has a higher head carriage and straighter shoulder-rump line.
||Varies from pure black to cinnamon or blond. Most are black
with brownish muzzle; often a white patch below throat or across chest.|
||Ranges from 57 kg to more than 70 kg (125 to 155 lbs). Females are generally smaller than males.|
||About 90 cm (just under 3 ft) at the shoulder.|
||About 1.5 m (5 ft).|
- Black bears (Ursus americanus) originated in Asia. They migrated to North America over time.
- Black bears can be found in most of Canada's national parks.
- The black bear prefers heavily-wooded areas and dense bushland year-round.
- The average female (sow) is 5 years old before she has cubs. The average male (boar) is 4 years old before he breeds.
- The black bear population does not have the ability to increase rapidly.
- There is a bond between the boar and the sow during mating season.
- Black Bear mothers have strong bonds with their cubs. (See Black bear-Human interactions
- Most cubs weigh .2 kg (? lb) at birth. They usually open
their eyes when they are 40 days old. At this time, they typically
weigh 1.8 kg (4 lbs).
- Cubs stay with their mother for a full year after birth (in January or February), plus for their first full winter.
- Mothers teach their young their food searching and selecting habits.
- Black bears are extremely territorial. (See Black bear-Human interactions)
- The black bear is the smallest bear in North America. The
average adult weighs 140-180 kg (300-400 lbs), has 42 teeth, and can
- The largest known black bear weighed 364? kg (802? lbs). The oldest known black bear was 30 years old. (1985)
- Black bears are carnivores, however they act like
omnivores, with only one quarter of their diet being meat. They mostly
eat plants and other vegetable matter.
- Many boars will wander over an area of 38 square kilometers
(15 square miles) to find food. Sows wander less, as they usually have
their young with them.
- The current black bear population, world-wide, is
approximated at up to 500,000 (1992), of these, approximately 60,000
live in B.C.
- Black bears have been recorded running at speeds up to 50 km/h (30 mph).
- Black bears do not hibernate during the winter but remain dormant.
- Black bears have fair eyesight (better than may people think), good hearing, and a great sense of smell.
The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis Ord) is distinguished
from the black bear by prominent humps over the shoulders formed
by the muscles of massive forelegs, sloping back line, dished
or concave face and long curved claws. A small grizzly is often
difficult to distinguish from large black bear. Treat all bears
with extreme caution.
||Varies from black to blond; frequently with white-tipped fur,
giving a grizzled appearance.|
||Averages about l00 kg (220 lb); some weigh up to 450 kg (1000 lb).|
||A little over 1 m (3 ft) at the shoulder.|
||Reaches 1.8 to 2 m (6 - 6? ft) when standing on hind legs.|
- In Canada, grizzly bears are found only in the western and northern national parks and wilderness areas.
- Females are generally smaller than males.
- Grizzly bears are most often found in the high country in the late summer and early fall, while in the spring and late fall,
they inhabit valley bottoms. The promise of easily obtained food may also lure grizzly bears into human environments.
- During the early spring and late fall a grizzly may consume as much as 45 kg (100 lbs) of food in a single day. This will
cause them to put on 2+ kg (6 lbs) of fat.
- Estimates place the current grizzly bear population in B.C. at 6,000.
Contrast this with estimates of only 800 grizzlies in the entire continental United States.
- A single grizzly requires a territory of between 90 and 250 square km (35 and 100 square miles).
- Only 12 grizzlies are known to live in or visit Yoho National Park.
- Only 12% of all grizzlies die of natural causes, the remainder die at the hands of man.
Black Bear - Human interactions
It is important to remember that when we are in the wilderness
we are in the bears' home, we are just visiting. If the bear wanders
through a campsite in search for the blueberries on the other
side, that's perfectly OK. However, you do not want the bear to
stop and try to eat YOUR food. Even worse, you don't want to have
to worry about the bear attacking you! Here are is a compendium
of tips to help you share the woods with the black bear. They
are not necessarily applicable to other types of bears.
It is also important to note that no two bear encounters are identical
and no hard and fast rules can be devised for the variety and
complexity of potential situations.
- Most cases of black bear attacks on humans are a result of
their looking for food. DO NOT leave your food, waste,
or other scented objects (wrappers, soap, lip balm, sunscreen,
toothpaste, anything with a fragrance) within reach of a bear
- remember, they are more practiced at using their sense of smell
that we are. Bears can smell anything from far distances, and
will taste it... even if it is something inedible! (Eg. Park rangers
have reported seeing bears try gasoline, candles, and the grease
remaining in a fire pit.) Even if you think they can't smell the
food (eg unopened pop) think again... One park ranger reported
of hearing of a bear put its claw through a pop can and drink
it. The only smell black bears aren't interested in is that of
humans. Don't forget that gum in your pocket!
- Recent studies show that Grizzlies can distinguish colours and
may be attracted to colours that are unusual for their environment. As
such some researchers are recommending use of "a camouflaged rainfly...with
a brightly coloured tent" (bright colours can serve as a rescue signal when
searchers are looking for you from aircraft).
- Use a flashlight at night - Many animals feed at night and
the use of flashlight may warn them away.
- If you are attacked while in your tent at night you must fight back
such attacks are always predatory in nature, your only defense is to
aggressively fight the animal!
- CAMPER CAMPING -- Store food and scented objects inside the
camper. !!! CAVEAT !!! Do not store inside a soft-side
camper as black bears can (and do) rip the sides open. Store it
in the car. Put waste in the designated garbage bin in the campground.
Use the campers privy, or an outhouse provided by the park. Empty
the campers privy only at designated trailer dumping stations.
- CAR CAMPING (aka Tent-out-of-Trunk) -- Store food and scented
objects inside your car. Put waste in the designated garbage bins
in the campground. Use the outhouses provided by the park (for
disposal of human waste, not for disposal of garbage). Do not
store a "port-a-potty" in your tent.
- BACKPACKING/CANOEING/TRUE CAMPING
- Exercise some forethought in your choice of a campsite: Do not camp in an area where there
is fresh bear sign
- Avoid setting up camp near a salmon stream, animal carcass or garbage
- Choose a spot in an open area where wildlife can see and hear you
- Store all food and scented objects and garbage at least 4 meters (13 ft) up,
between two trees, at least 1 meter (3 ft) from each
tree trunk (remember, black bears can climb)!
- Burning food scraps is not recommended, however, if you burn your burn
combustible wastes then burn it all. Food scraps must be
burnt to ash. Bury the ashes at least 20 meters (60 ft) from the
campsite. Place remaining wastes in a garbage bag and store with
the food and scented objects. All non-combustible garbage must be
"packed-out" (bears can easily find it and dig it
up). Use outhouses provided by the park, or, if unavailable, dig a
trench six inches deep at least 10 meters (30 ft) from the campsite,
and fill it in before you leave. DO NOT put garbage in outhouses!
- Do not cook or eat in or near your tent or tent trailer - The lingering odours of food are an open invitation to bears.
- Avoid fresh perishable foods with strong odors such as meat and fish.
- After eating, clean utensils and put garbage in containers immediately.
- Don't get food odours on your clothing or sleeping bag. It's best to sleep in different clothing than those worn while cooking.
- In the backcountry try to select a kitchen site that is at least 30 m (100 ft) away from camp, downwind if possible.
- If you spot a bear at a distance then make a wide detour or leave the area. If this is not possible then wait until the bear moves from your path, always leaving the animal an escape route.
- If you spot a bear which is close to you stay calm. A curious bear may approach or stand on its hind legs to get a better look at you. In this circumstance:
- Stand tall, wave your arms and speak in a loud voice.
- DO NOT RUN. Stand your ground or back away diagonally and stop if the bear follows you.
- Hike in a group. According to one bear expert I spoke with there has never been an incident of a bear attack on a group of more than 4 hikers.
- If you are in a group, bunch up or join other hikers nearby.
- If you are carrying bear spray, get it ready to use in the event it is needed you won't have much time.
- Make noise while you are hiking. Sing, whistle, talk or carry
a noise maker such as bells or a can with stones in it. (Note:
The bear expert I mentioned above did not think bells worked all
that well as bears are individuals and may come to investigate
the strange noise. He also said that once they realized the noise
was associated with humans they would probably leave.
Recent research tends to support his assertion.)
- Bear bangers can be an effective long range deterrent, however they have been known to cause forest fires so use them with caution.
- Be alert when traveling into the wind or hiking near fast flowing water.
- Watch for fresh bear sign
- Keep clear of dead animals and berry patches.
- Leave your dog at home. Dogs often infuriate bears, bringing
on an attack which may cause your dog to run back to you for protection
with you know who hot on his heels. If you must take your
dog with you keep it on a leash.
- NEVER, EVER FEED A BEAR. "A fed bear is
a dead bear", feeding a bear habituates it to human food
and will lead to its becoming "problem bear" and its
ultimate destruction. Not only that but your actions put not only
yourself but others at risk. Do you think you have enough food
to satisfy a bear's enormous appetite?
- DO NOT come between a mother and her cubs. The
mother will become scared for her cubs, and will attack if she
fears they are in danger.
- Due to their territorial nature, black bears can prove to
be nuisances when they leave their mother, searching for a home.
- Even if you have no food out whatsoever, you may still encouter
a black bear wandering during its daily travels. Upon spotting
a human, the naturally curious black bear will either a) run away,
or b) stop and observe the human.
- Parks Canada recommends remaining at least 100 meters away from bears.
- If a black bear is uncomfortably close, or it starts approaching
you, back away SLOWLY, always watching the bear. Speak in a LOUD,
DEEP voice (It doesn't matter what you say. I use "GO AWAY BEAR" as it also serves to inform others around me of my situation).
- DO NOT RUN away from a bear. They can
run faster than a race horse and your running may trigger a "chase"
- DO NOT PLAY DEAD with a black bear. It
is curious, and could rip you open just to see "what's inside"!
As a friend of mine says, "Play dead, play dinner".
- Although very unlikely, it is possible for a bear to charge
you. If this happens then stand your ground, wave your
arms and speak in a loud voice. Almost all charges are "bluff
- Sometimes black bears will still approach, or even attack
(VERY, VERY UNLIKELY). The next step is one some park rangers
have trouble convincing campers of...
FIGHT BACK! Get angry with a black bear. Throw your
arms up in the air, yell and scream in a deep voice, throw something
at it. Throw a pot at it, or a big rock. You want to show the
bear that you are in control. This sounds futile, but it works.
The black bear will get scared and run away. Keep in mind though,
you don't want to kill the black bear... just scare it.
- Respect the black bear. Remember, you are in it's home. It
may look cute and cuddly, but don't try to pet it. Let the black
bear be and it will let you be.
The following are signs of recent bear activity and should alert
you to the possible presence of a bear in the area:
- Fresh tracks.
- Fresh diggings.
- Fresh droppings.
- Claw or bite marks on trees.
For additional information on this topic see: