5 safety tips when encountering black bears
Expert offers advice on how to keep bears at bay — and what to do if that fails
In recent months in New Brunswick, there have been accounts of people fending off black bears by various means.
- Gilles Cyr of Grand Falls tugged on the tongue of an attacking bear to get it to leave him alone.
- Forestry worker Pierre Mezzetta outran a charging bear for hundreds of metres then climbed a tree.
- Rob Brown of Hanwell turned his garden hose on the bear hanging out in the blackness of his backyard.
So what's the right approach? Here are a few tips when it comes to dealing with bears.
1. Keep food scents inside
Graham Forbes, a wildlife ecologist at the University of New Brunswick, says tip number one is "Don't create a situation where they want to come where you are living."
That means keeping garbage, greasy barbecues and even bird food contained inside so the place where people are living doesn't smell like food to the bear, said Forbes.
"Black bears can be dangerous if they have lost their fear of people," said Forbes. "They associate food with people and if they've been trained as such by people not looking after their garbage, or they've learned that food and humans are similar so it's a good place to go look for food ... that's when a bear can be dangerous."
2. Don't sneak up on a bear, make noise
Forbes said if you are walking in the wilderness, making noise will keep bears at bay. They have poor eyesight, so if you are silent, they may not see you until you are in close proximity, said Forbes.
3. Remain calm
Should you end up in a close encounter with a bear, Forbes said it's important to stay calm, but acknowledges that may be easier said than done.
4. Don't turn and run away
"A lot of predators have an instinctual response that if something runs, they'll chase it," said Forbes.
He advised to back away slowly and place a jacket, or hat, or knapsack on the ground.
"Their eyesight is very weak but their smell is very good, so they can stop and smell things," said Forbes. "That might give you a chance to keep backing away."
He also says the bear may bluff an attack.
"Black bears are fairly famous for doing bluff charges. They'll run at you, stomp their feet, then go away," said Forbes. "It's hard to know, of course, if it's going to stop or keep running."
5. Fight back if you're being attacked
Finally, if there is physical contact, Forbes says the best advice is to try to fight it off.
"Give it a kick, start swatting the best you can. Stand up tall," he said. "These sorts of things have been shown to work quite well."