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Bears: stop, drop or ROAR?

July 11, 2019

There were recent black bear sightings in Fort Macleod, and at this time of year a lot of people are on the trails. In Banff Adventures safety tips, they suggest you “use the marked trails that are monitored by park employees”. Busier trails are less likely to have bears. But, what do you do if you do see one?

First off, it’s always a good idea to carry bear spray, a horn and bells. Trinkets that make loud noises should scare off most wildlife on the paths. If you are not in a large group, pay attention to your surroundings and don’t wear headphones. Bears have poor eyesight, so if they don’t hear you, they may run into you by surprise. 

If you have food with you, ensure it is safely stored. Any garbage should be placed in bear-proof disposal containers. If you see a bear at a distance, do not approach it or stop to take pictures. Give the animal a wide berth. 

Black Bears

Black bears are smaller than grizzlies, and much less aggressive. Though they are called ‘black bears’, their coat colour can range from black to very blonde. 

Black bears very rarely become defensive, except when protecting cubs. If you encounter a black bear on the path, do not run away from it, and don’t climb a tree. Rather, back away slowly, stay alert, and speak to the bear firmly. The bear is likely curious but may become predatory if you do not stand up to it. Make yourself look big and shout aggressively if it does not back down.

If it does attack, bear spray should always be your first option. If that doesn’t work, fight back. Land your punches at its eyes and snout especially. Often, black bears will see the signs of aggression and quickly back off. 

Grizzly Bears

Grizzlies, also known as brown bears, are much larger than black bears and exhibit a large hump on their shoulders. They average 6.5 ft in height. 

As with black bears, you should not try to run if you are in close proximity to a grizzly. They will see this as a challenge and chase after you, and they can reach a foot speed of nearly 50 km/hr. Back away and speak loudly, and use your bear spray if they approach. 

If a grizzly bear attacks you, it will only stop when it feel there is no longer a threat. Drop into the fetal position, protecting your head, neck and stomach. Play dead in this position even after the bear has left, and wait until you’re sure it’s gone. Grizzlies like to stick around for a while after to ensure their victim doesn’t get back up.

Staying alert is the most important thing you can do. Hiking in groups and making lots of noise will mostly keep bears off your path. And remember, if you see a cub, don’t approach it. Mother bears are extremely protective. No matter how cute it is, keep far away. According to Banff Adventures, “It's always best to be prepared.”

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