Why playing dead might save your life and other bear safety tips

If you come across a bear, play dead. Is that a myth or fact? Find out from an expert.

'If you think you are going to fight a grizzly, it's not going to work out that well,' Kim Titchener cautions

An expert in bear behaviour says how people react to bear interactions is critical to a positive conclusion. (Rick Price)

We've all heard it: if you come across a bear, play dead.

But is that a myth or fact?

An Alberta bear behaviour expert says it can be an effective way to mitigate an encounter with a bear, in some situations — like if the bear is aggressive.

"It is not a myth. If you do not have bear spray on you, you are going to drop to the ground and play dead. Put your fingers around the back of your neck, tuck your head in, don't make any noise and lie on your stomach," Kim Titchener told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

"A lot of people have done this over the years and it has effectively saved their lives or reduced their injuries. If you think you are going to fight a grizzly, is not going to work out that well."

Titchener — the founder of the wildlife safety training business called Bear Safety & More — says there are often an uptick in bear-human interactions during this time of year.

For example, a B.C. park ranger survived an angry grizzly bear attack earlier this month that hospitalized him for 14 days.

A rafting guide also recently got a fright when a young grizzly bear tried to chase him down the Elaho River near Squamish, B.C.

Others have had less terrifying experiences, like a Dan Kennedy's recent visit to Banff. The Ontario man sent video of a mother bear and her two cubs trying to cross a busy highway to CBC News on Wednesday.

Banff bears

4 years ago
Duration 0:46
Banff bears

Titchener says how we react is critical to how the interaction will end.

"Once you become aware of the bear's presence ... just start backing away, giving the animal space," she said.

"Don't yell and scream at them. I've heard people think they should yell at the bear, use an air horn or shoot off a gun. Let them know you didn't mean to surprise them, you are not trying to stalk them or take their food source or cubs."

And bear deterrent spray can be helpful, if you are under attack.

"If you have bear spray, pull it out, pull the tab off and you are going to be spraying because things are going to be happening really fast. It is such an effective tool. When it hits the bear, the last thing on their mind is, I want to hurt that person, it's self-preservation. They want to get out of there and get away from you."

Titchener says there are lots of active things people can do to reduce problems when out hiking or enjoying the backcountry.

Bear expert Kim Titchener says playing dead is actually a good idea if you come across an aggressive bear and don't have bear spray. That's just one of many tips she offers to help mitigate interactions. (Submitted by Kim Titchener)

Travel in groups of four or more, look for scat, diggings, paw prints and berries and make lots of noise by using voices not music.

"We have this false impression that this means something to a bear, but a bear knows a human voice and when they hear multiple tones of voices coming along the trail, they just want to get out of there are away from us," Titchener said.

"If we give them that opportunity we won't have these encounters."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener