Bear in Canada
Bears might glimpse sweet & cuddly but if you come across one in the wild, you'll know what fear really feels like. It's rare that a bear encounter will ever escalate to an aggressive assault, but if you should be so unfortunate, surviving a bear assault depends on knowing what type of bear it is and knowing tips on how to act accordingly.
Don't let the fear of a bear assault keep you from enjoying things to do in Canada. Gain some knowledge, use some common-sense and invest in some inexpensive equipment and you'll ensure your trip into the back-country is fun and safe.
First, get to know your Canadian bears:
- Black Bears - The smallest of the North American bears, these curious guys are found all over the country except for the southern prairies, southern Ontario & PEI. They can be black, brown or white and are the smallest of the three species found in Canada. They are shy & secretive and usually run from humans but are opportunistic when it comes to food (and garbage). They lack the massive shoulder hump of the grizzly bear and are quite a bit smaller.
- Grizzly Bears - These are solitary creatures and have retreated to the undisturbed wilds of the Rocky Mountains and the northern territories. They're numbers have dwindled due to hunting over the last 2 centuries. They are large creatures with excellent sense of smell. They mainly eat plants but can take down a moose. They have a MASSIVE shoulder hump and a large, circular face. I've seen grizzly bears when hiking in Kananaskis, Alberta.
- Polar Bears - These big guys are located in the Arctic regions and along the shores of the Hudson's Bay. They are the largest land carnivore in the world and rely on their keen sense of smell for hunting. They have thick white fir and black skin buried deep underneath.
It's good to educate yourself on ways to endure a bear assault but learning to avoid a bear assault is equally important so you'll never have to put any of these tips into use.
I've been hiking all over Canada for 20 years and have only come within 50 meters of a black bear while hiking and camping. The key is to give them the room and respect that they deserve. We're in their territory after all.
But similar to wild dogs, do not be intimidated or scared by these creatures and do not give them the chance to dominate.
Coming Face-to-Face with a Bear
As a general guideline, if you come face-to-face with any type of bear and it DOES NOT withdraw:
- Leave it an escape route. Most times bears avoid human contact and go the other way. Bears have incredible sense of smell and could wonder away after getting familiar with your scent.
- Do not make direct eye contact which might antagonize it. If might react angrily if it feels like it is being challenged.
- Stay in a group and make yourself glance as large as possible. Stand on a log or rock and wave your arms and speak in a calm, loud voice so not to agitate it.
- If it approaches, STAND YOUR GROUND, DO NOT RUN, even if it charges. Start yelling and making loud noises. If it gets too close (within 3 meters), use bear spray.
Black bears are the most prominent bears in North America with an estimated population of around 600 000. They are shy and fearful but opportunistic when people careless attract them with easy food and tantalizing scents.
If you are unfortunate to encounter a black bear assault then it's either treating you like an easy target or a mother is defending her cubs. They are primarily scavengers, not hunters.
- Stand your ground and do not cower even if it charges. Similar to a wild dog, never run otherwise it might think you are prey. Let it know that you are not an easy kill!
- Do not climb a tree since these guys are good http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nomadic_peoples_of_Europe climbers. Do not run away since these guys are fast runners. Never show them your fear.
- Make as much noise as possible to intimidate it.
- If it knocks you down, FIGHT BACK with anything and everything you've got. As scary as it sounds, aim for its head, eyes & nose while trying to protect your head & torso.
- Do not play dead. Black bears are the smallest of the species and there's a chance for you to come out of this alive.
My Personal Story - The closest black bear encounter I've had was in East Sooke Park on Vancouver Island (there are only black bears here). I was loudly whistling a tune on a coastal hike when a black bear emerged from the thick brush about 50 meters ahead.
It looked at me & my leashed dog, sniffed the air and then continued through the bush. My lesson learned - make frequent noise to give them plenty of time and space to retreat and always keep your dog leashed for everyone's safety.
Grizzly bear attacks are more serious since these bears are powerful and less fearful of people. Their weight alone can kill a human!
They are solitude by nature but with so much size and power, they know they're strength. They do not usually hunt humans so you're job it convince them that you are not a threat.
- Do not try to intimidate these guys. Slowly walk away without yelling or looking too grand & imposing. Try not to sneak up on it and surprise it.
- Do not make eye contact and give it plenty of room to retreat. Remember to act as if you are not challenging it in anyway.
- Do not run away like fleeing prey but do not show fear as well. If you can climb a tree, get up higher than 12 feet, out of its reach. These big guys can't climb.
- If it attacks, play dead since attacks are usually not sustained. Do not fight back since you will lose.
- On previous attacks in which the human survived, the grizzly bear will incapacitate the human (ouch) then bury them in mud or cover them with branches. They don't prey on humans, they just want to eliminate threats. Playing dead will trick them to think that you are not a challenge.
My Personal Story - I've come across a grizzly bear in Banff National Park while mountain-bike riding in the Rocky Mountains. My friend from Scenic Travel Canada & I caught up with a group of hikers on a trail who warned us of its presence.
A minute later a large male grizzly come plodding down the trail about 100 meters away. It sniffed the air for a few seconds, went into the bush and ignored us. My lesson learned - the best kind of bear encounters are those that can be avoided. Give these creatures plenty of space to avoid us and time for it to maneuver around us.
Polar bears have excellent sense of smell and are supreme hunters. They are the largest land carnivore in the world.
- These guys are hunters so always travel with bear spray, bear-bangers & a firearm.
- Do not run away like fleeing prey and do not show fear.
- If you are armed and it gets 'too close', get set to defend yourself!
- If you are not armed, then hope that the assault is brief and defensive. Pray and ask yourself what you're doing here in the first place!
My Personal Story - Viewing polar bears in Canada is best in October & November in Churchill, Manitoba. Hundreds of these majestic giants can be seen on the shores as they wait for the sea-ice to thicken.
Located on the shores of the Hudson's Bay, the town is just north of a popular polar bear summer breeding grounds in Wapusk National Park. My lesson learned - go on a guided tour and view the bears from the safety of an enclosed vehicle. This is one of the best & safest ecotourism tours in Canada!