WHAT TO DO WHEN
YOU ENCOUNTER A BEAR
By Sarah Elmeligi
Bear spray easy to access on the outside of your pack? Check. Hiking with friends and making noise? Check. Dog on a leash? Check. You’re well-prepared for recreating in bear country. But, what will you do if you actually encounter a bear? A bear biologist gives us her best pointers.
Note: This piece is from our archives. The attacks mentioned below are from 2016.
In the past week, there have been two bear attacks in southern Alberta – one northwest of Calgary and another in Canmore. In both cases, people ended up in the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. In both cases, people were carrying bear spray and thought they were prepared. In both cases, bears were taken by surprise and reacted in an aggressive way.
A bear encounter is a real risk in the Canadian Rockies. Most of the time when people encounter bears, nothing happens – people see bear, bear sees people, bear leaves the area. On rare occasions, it isn’t that simple. In those cases, you need to make sure that you know what to do to prevent a negative encounter.
As a bear biologist, I’ve spent a fair amount of time with bears, watching and researching them, and one thing I’ve learned is that a grizzly bear does what a grizzly bear wants. I think the essence of staying safe in bear country is making sure you do not surprise a bear and, if you do encounter one, that you remain uninteresting and unprovoking.
The most important first step in any bear encounter is to STOP and ASSESS what is going on. Chances are the bear will do the same thing. In that moment, you both have decisions to make. Look at what the bear is doing and the surrounding landscape. Is the bear aware of you? Does it care you’re there? Are there cubs or a carcass present that might make the bear more defensive? Does the bear have an easy escape route that does not involve going near you?
If you are far away from the bear (300m or more), make sure the bear knows you are there by calling out a yo, bear! If you’ve been doing this up the trail, the bear already knows you’re there and has probably decided it doesn’t care. If this is the case, then you have a great opportunity to watch a bear being a bear. As long as the bear doesn’t get too close, you can just enjoy the viewing. If you and the bear are much closer to each other (less than 100m), it’s a different story.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU
IF YOU ARE
WHAT NOT TO DO IF YOU
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Sarah Elmeligi is a wildlife biologist based out of Canmore, Alberta. She is currently working on her PhD examining how grizzly bears and hikers coexist in the Canadian Rockies. Prior to that she worked tirelessly on the campaign to protect the Castle as the Conservation Director for the Southern Alberta chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
The views and opinions expressed in the articles on CrowfootMedia.com are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor, the editorial team or the publishers.