When a bear meets a person, it often reacts as it would to another bear. Understanding this behavior is the best way to avoid negative interactions.
BEARS ARE PREDICTABLE
Bears exhibit predictable behavior. This trait can be beneficial to people if they come into contact with bears.
BEARS AREN'T BOOGIEMEN
Bears are not malicious. Except for extremely rare predatory behavior, they
are not out to "get" people. unless they are forced to be around humans to
be near a food source, they usually choose to avoid us.
BLACK AND BROWN BEARS HAVE EVOLVED DIFFERENT STRATEGIES FOR SURVIVAL
The adaptations of both species have molded their relationships - and reactions
- to people. Black bears are excellent climbers. When a black bear is
threatened it usually runs from the threat or goes up a tree. With cubs out
female black bears don't have to make vigorous defenses - risking potential
injury. Although black bears tend to retreat from people, they are still
incredibly strong animals that can cause injuries. Brown bears live in coastal
but have also learned to exploit treeless habitat. They are more likely than
black bears to defend themselves when threatened. A brown bear's first line
of defense is to retreat, but it can be very aggressive towards other bears
and people it perceives as threats.
BEARS CAN BE VERY SOCIAL
Bears are often described as asocial when compared to wolves, chimps, or lions. This may be true when making comparisons, however, to use the term asocial to describe bears is incorrect. While bears do not join in hunts, they can coexist in very close proximity to each other. The bears of a region are usually familiar with one another and meetings consist of complex social exchanges.
BEARS ARE NOT TERRITORIAL
Being territorial means keeping other members of your species away from a
given area. Wolves and primates are territorial - bears aren't. Bears,
like people, share home ranges. This mutual use of land and resources is a basis
BEARS LIVE IN A DOMINANCE HIERARCHY
Mature males are at the top of the hierarchy, and sub-adults and cubs at
the bottom. Bears establish and maintain their social position and place
in the hierarchy by acting aggressively. Single females and females with
cubs are almost always submissive to mature males but have a loose hierarchy
within their own group. This hierarchy is based on age, size, and temperament
- some bears are more aggressive than others.
BEARS DEFEND PERSONAL SPACE
Bears, like humans and other animals, have a critical space - an area around
them that they may defend. Once you have entered a bear's critical
space you have forced the bear to act - either
to run away or be aggressive. The size of the critical space
is different for every bear and situation.
BEARS DON'T SHARE
Bears do not share food. Female bears do not present food to cubs - the cubs
must take it. When a female kills a fish or a moose calf she immediately
begins to eat. The cubs fight among themselves and with their mother to get
can. If what they grab cannot be immediately consumed - like a moose leg
or a fish head - the
piece will be vigorously defended. This behavior accounts for some of the
aggressive and defensive interactions that take place with people, especially
when they disturb feeding bears.
BEARS HABITUATE, OR BECOME ACCUSTOMED, TO PEOPLE JUST LIKE THEY DO TO OTHER BEARS
Because plentiful food resources can be localized - salmon in a stream or
berries on a mountainside - bears
have evolved behavior that allows them to tolerate each other at close distances.
This behavior is transferred to their relationship with humans. If they are
not shot or harassed, bears habituate to people the same way they do to each
BEARS REACT TO NEW THINGS IN THEIR ENVIRONMENT
New objects or situations often frighten bears. Behaviorists call this "strange
object response". After an initial fright, bears will often investigate
what alarmed them. This is not an aggressive act and shouldn't be regarded as one.
BEARS ARE NOT ALWAYS AWARE
Bears, particularly adult brown bears, are not always aware of what is going
on around them. They are at the top of the food chain and have few concerns.
A big bear following a trail doesn't always look ahead. A bear can literally
blunder into an unsuspecting person.
Bear Behavior is from "Living in Harmony with Bears" by Derek Stonorov,
published by the National Audubon Society and used with their permission.