Were you as surprised as I was when you came across the recent story of a bear attacking a woman in Florida? We get a little used to that sort of story out west, but I don’t generally think of the suburbs of Orlando as prime bear country. Shows how little I know about my own country’s ecology, clearly.
My own ignorance aside, experts are noticing an uptrend in bear/human clashes in parts of Florida, where new housing developments are encroaching on longstanding black bear habitats. National Geographic addresses the issue usefully—and gives an idea or two on how to avoid a similar encounter—in the recent article, “Why Are Black Bear Attacks Up in Florida?”
So, if bears can invade even Disney World, I suppose this is a good time to brush up on our bear survival skills. And it turns out that what most of us know about bear encounters is woefully inaccurate. For example, I grew up hearing that when a bear attacks, you should play dead. Did you know that playing dead has no affect at all on black bears, and is only effective on browns or grizzlies in certain specific situations? That’s knowledge you don’t want to acquire firsthand!
Shortly after the recent mauling, ABC News published an article, “How to Survive a Bear Attack,” full of expert advice from park rangers and biologists. This article is a good starting place for learning about bear attacks. It gives an overview of different kinds of bears and their tendencies; good avoidance practices; and what to do in different bear encounter scenarios.
An even more thorough resource is the website bearsmart.com, maintained by the Get Bear Smart Society, whose object is to minimize conflict between bears and humans. This site tells you what to do if you encounter a bear in the backcountry or in urban setting. Tabs like “Becoming Bear Smart” and “Bear Management” cover topics from “understanding bear behavior” to “safety in polar bear country” (because you never know!). The “Bear Smart at Home” is particularly relevant, in light of recent events, and offers smart tips on discouraging bears from coming on to your property or safely deterring animals who might wander through.
Spring is optimal wildlife sighting time in my neck of the woods, when hibernators wake up and tasty new shoots and buds tempt creatures into the open. Know your bear safety and enjoy the wildlife from a safe distance!