Bear Threats
Image appears courtesy of
Dr. Lynn Rogers

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Are bears a threat to us, or are we a threat to bears?

Threats to lives of bear cubs
  • starvation from lack of food for mother bear
  • starvation from death of mother bear due to humans
  • adult male bears
Threats to lives of adult bears
  • loss of habitat from development by humans
  • loss of food from pesticides sprayed by humans
  • being killed by humans
Threats to humans from bears
  • few, if any, unprovoked attacks known

Ways to be Safe if in Bear Country

Try not to surprise a bear. Make lots of noise so it knows you are in the area. If it knows you are there when you are still a distance away, it will probably leave because of its natural fear of humans, unless, of course, it has learned that it can get food from humans.
If confronted by a bear, talk quietly, back off, and slowly walk away.
Do not attract bears. This means keeping a clean campsite.
Do not walk between a female and her cubs.
Do not approach a bear's food.
Hike in large groups. There is no known report of an attack on a group of six or more people.
If you encounter a black bear, make yourself seem bigger and more intimidating. This likely will make it decide to leave.
If you anticipate being attacked by a grizzly bear, your first plan should be to climb a sturdy tree. Climb high and hang on. If there is no tall, sturdy tree to climb, play dead (even though your heart is beating like a drum).
Never approach a bear and attempt to feed it.
Never "corner" a bear. Always leave it a route to escape.

Some Personal musings about whether bears or humans are the threat

  Adult bears have no natural enemies, except for other bears such as male bears who are claiming territory. Bears' greatest threat is humans. If a bear cub has survived the first year, a bear most likely will die because of being killed by man.

    Of course hunting season opens the likelihood of a bear being shot, but even outside of hunting season, people pose a threat to bears. Under the cloak of defense against the "fierce bear", man shoots those bears that have become a nuisance or danger. But it is man who has enticed, taught, or forced bears to approach people.

    Without the reduction in the bear's natural habitat, bears would be content to live apart from man. Humans, however, have cut down trees, limiting the space for bears and building on the edge of and into their natural space. Bears are being crowded out. It is not bears that have entered people's neighborhoods, but people who have entered bears' "neighborhoods". We have also contaminated oceans upon which the polar bears depend for food, and we have killed bears for the production of medicinal and non medicinal items and for preparing recipes with bear paw as an ingredient. The paw of the sun bear is a preferred delicacy.

    Furthermore, man leaves food for bears, teaching them that they can easily find nourishment in garbage cans, dumps, campgrounds, and sometimes people's yards. Being intelligent creatures, they return for more because it is "easy" food. Thus, bears become a nuisance.

    Whether bears fiercely defend their territory and cubs from people who mean them no harm, but are merely too close, is questionable. A bear might snort and "growl" to warn the person off, might bluff charge toward the person, and might even cuff the individual, but is unlikely to do so with the intent of killing the intruder. If we studied and acknowledged bear communication, we would have known before such assertive behavior that we were trespassing into the bear's domain. Obviously, a sign of intelligence on our part would be to retreat. So are bears a threat to us, or are we a threat to bears?

    And let us think about our reaction if an intruder were to enter our home. Would we give warnings to back off? If the person did not leave, would we take more drastic measures? Would we be frightened if we were surprised to find someone in our house when we had not heard them approach? Would that change our reaction? What would we do if we thought our children were in danger? To what length would we go to defend them? Perhaps our reactions would be more like the bear's than we realize. Maybe we have more in common with these mammals than just physical similarities - that they also walk with all of their foot on the ground and that they can walk upright (for short distances). But then, thinking further, bears do not seem to kill their own species to randomly express anger.

    We need to learn to coexist with bears. This can come only by understanding bears and respecting them. It will not occur by chance, and it will not occur if we are afraid of bears or exploit them.

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A. Meyerhorn     copyright 2001