Thursday, June 09, 2005

Nature, red in tooth and claw

I have a little Canadian content for you today. (The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which enforces Canadian content regulations on TV and radio, would heartily approve.)

The subject matter is rather macabre. "Nature, red in tooth and claw," in Lord Tennyson's words. Quite literally.

Here in the "great white north" — though it's not so white, this time of year — there have been several recent grizzly bear attacks. On June 5, a woman in Alberta was killed. About a week earlier, a woman in British Columbia was seriously injured but survived. And there have been several other close encounters that probably ended with soiled underwear, but without a mauling.

The experts say such events are going to occur more frequently than they have in the past. We are expanding our communities into the bears' habitat, thereby inviting trouble.

Jogger mauled to death by grizzly
Globe and Mail, June 7, 2005

Canmore, Alberta — All through May, the young grizzly bear was seen ambling through a golf course at the edge of town, his appearances causing no huge concern among wildlife officials.

He was thought to be nothing more than a curious youngster — even though he got so close to a local photographer that she could smell his breath.

There was no danger sign, experts say, until Isabelle Dubé and her two jogging companions rounded a sharp corner on a wilderness trail Sunday afternoon and saw a grizzly just 20 metres away.

According to provincial officials, the three women began to back away slowly, but Ms. Dubé decided to climb a tree, while her two companions continued to walk backward until they were out of the animal's sight. But not out of earshot.

"All they heard was their friend shouting at the bear," Mr. Ealey said.

They ran for a half-kilometre to a golf-course clubhouse, where police were called. But Ms. Dubé was already dead; mountain-bike riders who encountered the bear said it seemed to be guarding a kill.

When a Fish and Wildlife officer responded, he found the bear with the body. "As he approached, the bear moved off the body," Mr. Ealey said. "[He] shot it. One shot."

Ms. Dubé's death has shaken this picturesque town, a weekend getaway destination for residents of Calgary, 100 kilometres to the east.

"Everybody is just reeling from it," said Niki Davison, 35, who got within two metres of the same bear in late May when photographing flowers. "I realize now that if I had made the wrong move, I could have been hurt too."

I wonder how Niki Davison is sleeping these nights? I've seen her interviewed on TV. She says she tried to walk away from the bear, but it followed her for 5-10 minutes. Finally, she realized it wasn't going to go away until its curiosity was satisfied. So she stood still and waited.

The bear got within five feet of her before it finally ambled off. She could smell its breath, according to the above account. And, days later, it kills this other unfortunate woman.

Talk about an it-could-have-been-me moment.

BC woman survives mauling
Globe and Mail, May 31, 2005

A Prince George woman who was viciously mauled by a black bear in British Columbia's northern region is in stable condition in hospital Tuesday after she suffered severe bites and lost a piece of her scalp and part of an ear.

Julia Gerlach, 27, a triathlete and university student, was surveying a dense bush for an environmental company in a remote region more than 150 km north of Fort Nelson, B.C., when the 90-kilogram [approximately 200 lb.] bear attacked Friday afternoon.

"The attack was territorial, aggressive and unavoidable. While trying to reach for my bear spray, I was knocked to the ground and the bear was on top of me," Ms. Gerlach said in a written statement from the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton. "All I remember is using the bear spray and the bear ripping skin and muscles from my skull and arms."

Ms. Gerlach's co-workers likely saved the woman's life by scaring the bear away and calling for help.

Bear spray? More on that in a moment.

According to experts, our relentless expansion into wilderness areas puts us at risk. To return to the first story:

The death of Ms. Dubé, originally from Cap-St-Ignace near Quebec City, has raised fresh questions about the wisdom of Canmore's rapid expansion.

The fatal encounter occurred in an area attached to a wildlife corridor, a strip of land up and down the Bow Valley that allows large animals to move through their habitat without being impeded by rapidly spreading development.

The town, with a population of 14,500 including weekend residents, expects to more than double its size over the next 20 years. Deputy mayor John Borrowman said Ms. Dubé's death underscores the need to be aware that Canmore is in an area teeming with wildlife, including bears, wolves and cougars.

"It's a serious issue to begin with, and having a death just drives it home. We're in their territory."

I was feeling pretty troubled by these accounts, until I read the following addendum to the first story. If you're ever attacked by a bear, don't panic! Just follow these simple instructions and you, too, will suffer nothing worse than soiled underwear!

Surviving a bear encounter

1. Bear at a distance

If you see a bear far off, stop moving toward the bear. Slowly reverse down the trail for at least 350 metres until the bear is out of sight. Then, either use another trail or wait 20 minutes before hiking back along the original trail, making lots of noise.

2. Bear on or near the trail:

Stand your ground and take out bear pepper spray. Keep a canister of approved spray accessible at all times. While continuing to face the bear, slowly back away until it is out of sight. Continue back along the trail for at least 400 metres. Consider another route or follow the advice in No. 1.

3. Bear at close range:

Do not panic, run wildly, or scream. That could cause a bear to charge. Stand still and be quiet. Get your pepper spray ready. If the bear does not move closer, it probably isn't aggressive, but stay put until you are sure. Slowly back away, talking to it quietly in a monotone voice. Do not turn your back on the bear, run, kneel down or make eye contact. Slowly back away.

4. Charging bear: Again don't panic; many charges are actually bluffs. Have your pepper spray ready but don't spray unless the bear is within range. If the bear charges then stops, follow the advice in No.2, slowly backing away. If the bear doesn't stop, use the pepper spray.

5. If pepper spray fails -- black bear, or grizzly bear sow with cubs:

Female bears that feel threatened are the most common attackers, but most of these encounters are not fatal.

Remain calm and quiet. Fall to the ground on your stomach. Clasp your hands over your neck and, spread your legs so your feet are apart. Play dead and do not make a sound. Do not fight back. Most sow attacks when cubs are involved are only to frighten away a perceived threat. Fighting back or making noise will only aggravate the bear.

In the case of a female black bear, if playing dead is not working, then you should fight back.

When the attack is over, continue to lie still until you are sure the bear is gone. Carefully and slowly get up, and back away. There have been documented cases of multiple attacks by the same bear because the victim got up too soon.

5. If pepper spray fails -- grizzly bear male:

Grizzlies will actively hunt animals that are larger and faster than humans. If a grizzly attacks and it is a male, you are at the highest risk of being killed compared to any other bear-attack scenario.

Remain calm and quiet, fall to the ground and protect your neck and stomach by clasping your hands over your neck, lying face down. Play dead during the attack. If the bear stops its attack, do not move, do not make a noise and continue to play dead. Even if the bear "buries" you under leaves or brush, continue to play dead. When you are as sure as possible the bear is gone, carefully and slowly get up, and back away. Do not run.


I feel much safer now. Don't you?


At 5:00 PM, June 09, 2005, Anonymous Journeywoman said...

Lovely. Here's the one that really got me: For bear at a distance, ...or wait 20 minutes before hiking back along the original trail, making lots of noise!! Who in their right mind would continue down a trail where they'd just seen a bear? Even if it was twenty minutes ago?

I think I'll just stick to nice, quiet urban Eastern Ontario, where the biggest wildlife threat we have to deal with is those damned raccoons in the garbage!! (And drunken university students in downtown bars.)

At 9:02 PM, June 09, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

The one that gets me is, Charging bear: Again don't panic; many charges are actually bluffs.

Many charges are actually bluffs?! That's supposed to be enough reassurance to keep me calm?!

At 1:41 PM, June 10, 2005, Blogger Carolyn said...

Scary as all the information is, it's kind of funny, but my friends and I were sitting around a campfire a couple weeks ago trying to remember what to do while we're backpacking if we run into bears. I'll have to forward the info along...

At 1:49 PM, June 10, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

Yeah. Now we all know! lol

At 2:41 PM, June 10, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

If this post saves even a single life, it will be worth the many hours of painstaking labour that went into it.

At 3:32 PM, June 10, 2005, Blogger Carolyn said...

I wonder who the brave character was that tested these strategies...they are tested, right?

At 7:07 PM, June 10, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

Note for JourneyWoman....

Michelle and I have come across bears in a park close to our hometown, actually less than 20kms away (not urban but eastern Ontario), but 90% of black bears, the only bears in this area, are timid. The media catches the one in one ten thousand fatal case and makes it into a sideshow.

YES Bears are dangerous, even Black bears, however all carnivores are dangerous including us, when we feel threatened.

We came across a pair of bears in Bon Echo Provincial park south of Peterburough.
This time unfortunately we had to go back down the same trail. Jeff and Therese were with us and were the first ones to come across the bears. The bears strolled off into the bush and we were able to pass.

loud talking usually works, it is hard to press the case that bears are dangerously aggressive when loud talking will generally keep them away.

Back country camping we come across evidence that they pass our campsite often but usually when we are sleeping and we have no food near the tents.

We bought a $100 bear proof food container (tm. Garcia Machine) as the Adirondack park now requires them to store your food when camping. The old bags and lines trick (in a tree) isn't working anymore the bears are getting smart.

last time we used a rewnted one and the bear kicked it around and left (we placed it 100 feet outside the campsite)

Pepper spray is usually a good idea in grizzly country, but for black bears you would have to run after the bear to Pepper spray it.

That said, the advise posted is all good advice it gives the novice hiker a good sense of respect for bears.

Too much respect, leading to fear can make for dangerous encounters. A terrified human is his/her own worst enemy.

A bear might want to simply appear dominant, if so as soon as you look submissive he will leave. If you are yelling and screaming he may attack. Bears only make noise when they are trying to threaten something. Therefore a noisy human is a threatening human, even if he is creaming or yelling in fear. (Back country etiquette article I read)

At 5:26 AM, June 12, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...


a noisy human is a threatening human, even if he is creaming or yelling in fear.

I assume you mean, "screaming". I shudder to think what "creaming in fear" might refer to.

Kudos to my readers for their sense of humour:

…where the biggest wildlife threat we have to deal with is those damned raccoons in the garbage!! (And drunken university students in downtown bars.)
— Journeywoman

these strategies…are tested, right?
— Carolyn

Pepper spray is usually a good idea in grizzly country, but for black bears you would have to run after the bear to Pepper spray it.
— Bill

What fun!


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