Bear Attacks Alberta: What To Do If You Run Into A Bear This Summer

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A pair of Grizzly siblings fight near Jasper, Alta. | mlharing via Getty Images

In the span of two days, two Albertans have been attacked by bears. One woman was having a picnic with her boyfriend, the other riding a bike.

Both victims are recovering, but the incidents are an important reminder to be prepared when you head out into the wilderness — even if it's just a day trip or picnic.

Here's what you need to know if you run into a bear this summer .

First, make sure you don't run into one in the first place

Bears are majestic creatures, but you probably never want to observe one up close.

Steer clear of berries

Summer is a great season for buffaloberries — which means many bears are out looking for a snack. Bears are omnivores, and berries are one of their favourite foods.

Human-wildlife conflict biologist Jay Honeyman told the Calgary Herald it's important for hikers to recognize what berries are in season, and if they see a big crop, steer clear.

bear berries
A black bear chows down on some wild berries. (Photo: Getty)

Stay alert

Berries aren't the only sign worth watching out for. Fresh dung, footprints, carcasses and scrape marks are all signs that a bear might be in the area. If you see signs of a bear, scram.

Be loud

If there's one thing these North American omnivores hate, it's surprises. Shouting or singing is more effective than bells, according to Alberta Parks. Instead of wearing headphones in your ears — which might prevent you from being alert — play some music to keep the furry predators at bay.

Take precautions

If you're camping, make sure to store your food and garbage properly so ursine visitors don't come looking for a snack.

Carry bear spray

If a bear shows up, bear spray is a great deterrent.

"We've done a lot of research on the efficacy of bear spray going on 20 years now and all the studies point to positive results," Stephen Herrero, a bear expert and professor at the University of Calgary, told CBC News. Herrero said bear spray is actually more effective than a firearm.

Bear spray is a type of pepper spray, made at a concentration that will ward off a 200 kilogram attacker (don't point it at a person!)

If you carry bear spray make sure you know how to use it. If the bear is near, take direction of the wind strength and direction and aim for the bear's face.

The government has this helpful instructional video you might want to watch (even if just for the cheesy intro):

Keep an eye on kids and pets

Keep your dogs on a leash and your kids close. Staying in a group is a great deterrent for bears.

“Children can be unpredictable, so if you’re hiking with children what you want to tell them is any time you see any animal – you want to come right up close and tuck yourself behind mom, dad or whichever adult you’re hiking with," University of Calgary outdoor centre instructor and guide Rachel Oggy said in an interview with Global News.

If you spot a bear

First things first: stay calm. Don't run, face the mammal and speak to it in a calm firm voice. Don't make any sudden movements or scream. If it rears up, don't panic — it might just be sniffing the air to figure out what or who you are.

alberta bear
A grizzly stands up and shows its paws. (Photo: Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

If a bear attacks

According to Alberta Parks, it's important to establish if a bear is defensive or predatory. Also, it's important to note the difference between a black bear and a grizzly. If you're dealing with a black bear, skip the defensive step and jump right ahead to predatory.

If a bear is attacking defensively

A grizzly bear might attack if it thinks it is in danger or a mom might attack to protect her cubs. These are the most common type of bear attacks, and they usually last under two minutes.

If it's a defensive attack, follow these three steps:

  1. Use your bear spray.
  2. Play dead. Cross your arms behind your head and lay on your stomach with your legs spread.
  3. Stay still until the bear has left.

If a bear is predatory

Predatory attacks happen if a bear stalks a human or if it's attacking at night looking for food. Here's what to do:

  1. Try to escape. Head for a car or building if possible.
  2. Don't play dead.
  3. Fight back. Makes lots of noise and try to hit the animal with anything you have on hand.

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