How to survive a black bear encounter

In recent weeks there have been a string of unusual encounters between humans and bears in British Columbia - what should you do if you see a black bear?

Expert advice on how to keep bears at bay — and what to do if that fails

If you are walking, 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.

York Regional Police say there are reports of a bear roaming in a community about 50 kilometres north of Toronto. The bear has been spotted in backyards in New Market, Ont., and officers responding to calls have been unable to locate the animal.

So, what should you do if you see a black bear? Here are a few tips when it comes to dealing with bears.

1. Keep food scents inside

Wildlife ecologist Graham Forbes 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."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?