Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bear Attack!

"I don't think my parents liked me. They put a live teddy bear in my crib."
-Woody Allen
For the first time in 25 years a tourist has been killed by a bear at Yellowstone Park. Forty years ago when my grandparents went to Yellowstone, bears were common. People fed them from cars and my grandmother's scrapbook is filled with close-up bear photos (e.g. a bear sticking its nose through the partially open window). But Park Rangers knew this was dangerous so they moved the bears deeper into the park, made every trashcan bear proof and banned the feeding of bears. It worked. Fifteen years ago when my wife and I visited the park, we were lucky to see a bear far away up on a mountainside. Such sightings caused "bear-jams" as every tourist pulled over on the road to see the bears through binoculars. One brave (stupid) group tried to hike up the mountain to get a better view and were scolded and fined by a Park Ranger.

The man who was recently killed was hiking with his wife in the back woods of Yellowstone when they came unexpectedly upon a mother with cubs. They both ran but bears can outrun people. What saved the wife is that she dropped to the ground; the bear picked her up by her backpack, but then left her alone.

The recommended response to an angry bear is either to back away slowly, or to lie down on the ground and play dead. When playing dead, clasp your hands around your head at the back of the neck for protection against bites.

When camping in woods, keep food away from your car and sleeping area. Bears can rip open cars, trailers and of course tents. Put food items in a sealable bag and hang them on a tree about 100 yards from the campsite.

Bottom Line

Bear attacks are rare.  "It's really important to not surprise them," says one expert. Attach bells to your hiking gear and make noise so the animals know you are there. Most wild animals want to avoid an encounter and will move away. Never approach a wild animal with cubs or a carnivore eating a carcass. In both cases the animal will be protective and could turn aggressive.

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