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Review: Canada and Bears

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Canada

Be Bear Aware

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2468 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon

  • May 2009
  • Husband

161 people found this review helpful

The Canadian Mountains are home to Black Bears and Grizzlies. Most visitors hope to see a bear sometime during their holiday. Black bears are found in the lower forests and can often be seen at dawn and dusk grazing along road side verges. Dandelions are a particular delicacy. They may also be seen on walking trails through the forest and even in towns. They are smaller than grizzlies and less aggressive. Grizzlies are less likely to be encountered unless you are back packing in wilderness county.



Bears are not the cuddly animals of children’s stories. They are potentially dangerous and should be treated with respect. It is in the interests of both humans and bears to minimise conflicts that may arise when we both share the same territory.



Growing urban development, mineral extraction, logging and recreational access all put pressure on bear habitats. It is becoming harder for bears to avoid people. Remember that bears need space with little human interference if they are to survive.



Parks Canada and Provincial governments provide information about bear encounters and this article is based on their guidance. It help us humans understand bears and minimise any potential conflicts which may arise when bears are seen.



WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A BEAR ENCOUNTERS PEOPLE:



•  The bear can alter its its path of travel and move away. If there is persistent disturbance, it may abandoned an area completely.
•  It may react aggressively – this usually only happens if the bear is surprised at close quarters and feels threatened.
•  It may become so used to human contact that it loses its natural wary behaviour and becomes a lot bolder. It develops a taste for human food and begins to associate humans as a source of food, entering campsites or towns. Bears are strong enough to mangle cars and shred tents. The bear may end up being shot.



For the sake of the bear, humans do need to take responsibility for their actions.



WHAT YOU CAN DO:



•  Limit the chance of an encounter while out. Make a nose when walking (sing, talk loudly, clap your hands) to let the bear hear you and to give it time to escape. This is particularly important in dense vegetation or berry patches where the bear may be too busy feeding to notice you, or on windy days. “Bear bells” are on sale in many tourist shops. These help but may not be enough.
•  If you see a bear feeding on the roadside, consider not stopping. Do not get out of the car and stalk the bear to get that fantastic photograph to show all your friends. Bear Jams caused by gawping tourists stress out bears when they are feeding. (Let’s face it you wouldn’t like to be pursued by hordes of paparazzi when you were trying to have a quiet meal).
•  Don’t drop litter and especially food which may be attractive to bears. Put all rubbish in bear proof litter bins or better still take it back with you. When camping, keep all food in bear tight storage containers or hung up well out of reach (at least 4m). Have a special food storage area 100m from your tent.
•  If fishing do not leave fish offal on the sides of the stream or lake.
•  Avoid the use of scented cosmetics, deodorants, soap etc which may attract bears.
•  Avoid areas where there is a dead animal as bears feed on these. Report to Parks Canada Staff or to the Rural Municipality (RM) Office who will remove the animal.
•  Watch for signs of recent bear activity/presence – tracks, fresh droppings. Leave the area if these are very fresh.
•  Stay on recognised, marked trails. • Head any warnings signs about bear activity along popular trails.
•  In areas where bears are frequently seen, walk in larger groups and keep children close and dogs on a lead.
•  Avoid walking at night when bears are more active.



BEAR ATTACKS ARE UNCOMMON



Given the choice a bear will try and move away, ideally before you see it.



HANDLING A BEAR ENCOUNTER WHILE OUT WALKING



•  Stay calm. This will reassure the bear.
•  Avoid eye contact which may be interpreted by the bear as a threat.
•  Speak to the bear calmly and quietly. This lets the bear know you are human and not prey.
•  Back away from the bear slowly and give it chance to move away. Wait until the bear is well clear before continuing.
•  Gather up children and form a tight group.
•  Make sure the bear has an escape route.
•  Don’t drop your pack. In the very rare case where a bear is aggressive and attacks, you may be grateful of it.
•  Do NOT shout, scream or run away. This may trigger a bear to attack.
•  Remember, bears can run faster than you.



BEAR SPRAY



This can be bought everywhere and it is recommended you carry it, especially if intending to do any wilderness walking. Make sure you have read the instructions and know how to use it. Always keep it readily available.



HANDLING AN ATTACK



Sometimes a bear may be curious and approach. Stay calm, appear as nonthreatening as possible and keep talking as you slowly move away. If the bear comes really close the advice from Parks Canada is to stand your ground, keep talking and use your bear spray. If the bear makes contact, fall on the ground and play dead. Lie on your stomach with legs apart and position your arms so that your hands are crossed behind your neck. This position makes you less vulnerable to being flipped over and protects your face, the back of your head and neck. Remain still until you are sure the bear has left the area. This will usually take less than two minutes, although it may seem the longest two minutes of your life. If it lasts longer, it may mean the bear has moved to a predatory attack and you will need to fight back.



The chances of coming across an aggressive bear are very rare and usually only occur if the bear is stressed and feels threatened. You will need to go on the offensive and fight back. This is a lot easier if there is a large group of you (hence the advice about walking in larger groups in areas bears are known to be a problem). You will need to intimidate the bear. Use bear spray. Make yourself look as large and threatening as possible. Shout loudly and angrily at the bear. Hit out at it with your pack (which is why you don’t drop it), walking poles, rocks, sticks… anything you can find. Do not play dead. Remember black bears and young grizzlies can climb trees. Adult Grizzlies have a reach of about 4m.



ANNUAL CYCLE OF BEAR ACTIVITY

•  Spring – Bears are breaking out from their winter hibernation. They will be hungry and in search of food. Males are looking for females to mate with and may travel long distances.
•  Summer – Grizzlies move to higher altitudes and are less likely to be sen unless wilderness trekking. Black bears are more likely to be seen in valley bottoms and feeding along roadside verges at dawn and dusk.
•  Autumn – Bears are busy feeding to build up fat reserve for the summer and may be so engrossed they don’t hear you approach.
•  Winter – Bears are hibernating so chances of meeting a bear are small.



FINAL COMMENTS

Chance encounters with bears are one of the most rewarding parts of a holiday in Canada. Most people will see a bear at some point. Bear attacks are very rare as long as we make an effort to understand the bear and give it the space it needs. We saw one ‘bar jam’. A coach, several RVs and a dozen cars were parked all over the road with about 50 people milling around trying to take photographs of the bear. Some were disobeying all the rules and were stalking the bear to try and get that close up shot to impress people back home. As we wove our way through the cars I felt very sorry for the bear.



We saw most bears from the car early morning when they were feeding on verges. We did see a black bear with two cubs on the Linnet Lake Nature Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park. We had only walked about 5 minutes from the car park when we went round a bend on the trail and there was mother bear with two cubs about 100 yards ahead of us. Mum looked at us and ambled off round the bend. It was a moment to remember.



There was still snow on the ground around Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park and first thing in the morning we often saw bear prints in the snow although we never saw any bears while we were out.



Be Bear Aware and enjoy your encounters.



Parks Canada Guidance on bears is here.



A report of our trip to Canada can be read here



I have written a series of more detailed report for Silver Travel Advisor. 



 

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