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Yesterday a couple of hikers experienced a “worst case scenario” bear encounter. After embarking on a hike near Yellowstone’s Canyon Village (where as a college student I chopped veggies in the employee kitchen) they surprised a mama grizzly bear and her cubs. The bear defended her cubs, attacking the husband and wife.
The park service issued this description of the attack: “At approximately 11:00 a.m., at a point about a mile and a half from the trailhead, the couple walked out of a forested area into an open meadow. It appears that the couple spotted a bear approximately 100 yards away and then began walking away from the bear. When they turned around to look, they reportedly saw the female grizzly running down the trail at them. The couple began running, but the bear caught up with them, attacking the husband. The bear then went over to the wife, who had fallen to the ground nearby. The bear bit her daypack, lifting her from the ground and then dropping her. She remained still and the bear left the area.”
Other hikers heard the woman’s screams and called rangers to the scene. But it was too late. Tragically, the husband was mauled to death.
The park has closed hiking trails near the mauling, but the bear will not be hunted or captured. This is because she was acting naturally in defense of her cubs. It was a textbook example of what happens when a mama grizzly is startled.
Although this was the first fatal mauling INSIDE the Park in 25 years, it’s the third mauling in the area in just a year. In fact, a man was mauled to death at a campground just outside Yellowstone last year. Bear activity in Yellowstone is on the rise.
Yellowstone is my favorite park. What I really love about the park is the very thing that makes it dangerous: the abundance of wildlife. It’s awe inspiring to witness wild bison, moose, elk, wolf, and yes, bear roaming their native habitat. Bears will always roam Yellowstone. There will always be occasional human-bear interactions.
So, while you’ve no doubt heard this advice before, you might as well hear it again… A few bear safety tips:
Make noise – wearing “bear bells” is one option, but not a very effective one. BEAR BELLS ALONE DO NOT ENSURE YOUR SAFETY! You should talk to your hiking companions. If bears hear your voice, they will likely try to avoid you. Feel free to shout. When my wife and I hike in the backcountry, we occasionally shout, “Hey bear! Hey bear!”
Stay in a group. Your odds of survival increase in a group. Bears are less likely to attack groups of three or more people.
Carry pepper spray. This “bear spray” stuff isn’t cheap ($50 a can?!) but it has been proven to work. When you carry it, you need to be ready to use it.
Keep food away from campsites. Store food and other potential bear attractants inside your RV, preferably inside sealed plastic containers.
If you do see a grizzly bear, walk away slowly or play dead, but avoid fast moves. In the Yellowstone fatality, the husband reportedly told his wife to run. While this reaction is understandable, running is the WORST response to seeing a grizzly bear. It often provokes the predatory instinct in the bear to chase its prey. Grizzlies are always faster than humans, so this chase has a predictable end. In fairness to the hikers in the Yellowstone attack, it seems the provoked bear was already running towards them before they chose to run. But there is no point in running. YOU CANNOT RUN FASTER THAN A BEAR.
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