BROWN BEARS AND HUMANS

BROWN BEARS AND HUMANS

As a rule brown bears don't bother people. Grizzly bears have let people touch their teeth and stick their hands in their mouth. Well-fed bears generally present less problems than hungry ones. Brown bears appear to dislike the taste and smell of human beings.

Alaskan Bear researcher Larry Aumiller told Smithsonian magazine, "Bears, especially young ones, will occasionally try to push people around. They're always testing each other for dominance and sometimes they'll come up to us to see if they can intimidate these strange hairless bipeds. We have to let them know this is not acceptable behavior. But, at the same time, I don't want to overly intimidate them. Every interaction between bears and people...is essentially, a training session."

Aumiller disciplined one troublesome young bear who started making bluff-charges against groups of tourist by launching a preemptive bluff-charge of his own. He said that the same act could prove fatal with different, larger bear that could perceive it as a "challenge to his supremacy."

Browns are threatened by mankind who have hunted them for sport, for furs and as pests and livestock killers. Their ability to recover from seeming fatal wounds made many indigenous people believe they had supernatural powers. A study of grizzly bears at Banff National Park found that the bears reproductive rate is slow and doesn’t keep up with the rate in which they are killed off by humans.

Dru Sefton of the Newhouse News Service wrote: “Protecting people and their property from bears is a politically sensitive issue. "Bears have become an icon that represent all things bad mankind has done to nature," bear researcher Gary Shelton said. New Jersey recently canceled a black-bear hunt after public protest. In the last year officials there have documented 25 bear attacks on livestock and 40 on household pets. Shelton, who lives in the remote Bella Coola Valley of British Columbia, began his career as a conservationist. He came to think that bears were becoming "overprotected" - that populations were growing too large - so he "shifted gears" to study what people can do to avoid or minimize bear attacks. \*/ [Source: Dru Sefton, Newhouse News Service, Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 1, 2000]

Avoiding Trouble with Brown Bears

Hikers in bear country are encouraged to keep their distance, especially with a mother and her cubs, and wear bells or some other noise maker so they don't accidently startle a bear. When in the presence of bear people are told to speak calmly and reassuringly, and not run because bears sometime see that as opportunity to run in pursuit. One Russian guide told the New York Times, "Never look the bear on the eyes. And don't move. Just yell Russia swear words at it."

Alaskan bear expert Aumiller, who spends much of time escorting tourist around bears, told Smithsonian, "Sometimes it can get a little complicated depending on things like how many people we have, how loud or aggressive they are, which bears are present that day and how they're getting along with each other. If we seem to be making a bear nervous, I get the group to act more submissive. We may move closer together, which make the group's size appear less formidable. We stop making noise, we may sit down, we say even slowly move away. If, on the other hand, a bear starts acting assertive, we may do the opposite—spread out and stand up on logs or rocks, talk loudly, maybe even wave our arms around. Every interaction is different and it's up to us to read the people and the bears, and respond appropriately to each other."

If you surprise and are attacked by a brown bear some advise you to play dead since most of the time the bear is defending itself. If it stalks you fight back and don’t make yourself easy pray. In some places hikers carry red pepper spray to ward off bears. The jury is out on whether this really works. Soem say red pepper spray may actually attract bears. If sprayed at a campsite bears can get a whiff of it a quarter of a mile away.

Troublesome grizzly bears are driven away by loud yelling, firing shotgun blanks, throwing bean bags, or firing rubber bullets. Other measures employed to keep bears away include electric fencing around garbage sites, replacing conventional trash cans with bear-proof models and educating people on how to keep their trash stored out of harms way. In the United States, troublesome grizzly bears are driven away by chasing them with specially trained Finnish dogs and dealt with using the three-strikes-your-out policy in which troublemakers are caught and taken to a wilderness area. If they show up two more times and cause troubel they are killed.

Doubts About the Conventional Wisdom on Avoiding Bear Attacks

Dru Sefton of the Newhouse News Service wrote: “When the grizzly charged, Patricia Van Tighem did what hikers have always been told to do. First, she scampered up a tree. The bear batted her down. Then she lay still on the ground, playing dead. The bear began gnawing on her face, ripping skin and muscle from her skull. Van Tighem finally did something she wasn’t supposed to do: She reached up and poked the bear in the nose. The bear retreated. "Staying still didn’t work," said Van Tighem, whose new book, "The Bear’s Embrace," details the grueling 20-year physical and mental aftermath of the attack on her and her husband. "If I kept playing dead, I would have BEEN dead." [Source: Dru Sefton, Newhouse News Service, Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 1, 2000 \*/]

“The common advice always has been - and still is - that if you’re threatened by a grizzly, play dead; if you’re threatened by a black bear, fight back. But a summer of attacks involving not only fierce grizzlies but also normally docile black bears has some experts questioning those approaches. The issue becomes more important as bear populations increase and human-bear conflicts, the term that researchers use for these sometimes violent interactions, become less rare. \*/

"Conflict is increasing all over," said Gary Shelton, who has studied bears for 35 years and written two books considered to be the seminal works on bear aggression. "What’s happening is bear attacks are taking place where they haven’t before, there’s a higher level of fatalities, and there are more deadly attacks by black bears."

“If people want to learn how to co-exist with bears, "it is incumbent upon us to figure out how they think," said Tom Smith, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska and an expert on bear-human interaction. Smith is studying grizzly bear responses to smells, sights and sounds associated with human outdoor activities. He travels through the wilderness displaying different colored tent materials and playing voice recordings, noting bear reactions. Avoidance remains the best defense, yet some people are naive about keeping bears at bay, Smith said. "Campers put papaya-guava-honey shampoo on their heads and then wonder why bears are paying attention to them," he said. "Come on, people, this is stupid." To a bear, that’s about as inviting as "bacon and egg shampoo" would smell to a hungry hiker, Smith noted. \*/

“Much of Smith’s research runs counter to accepted bear-avoidance tactics. He has discovered that pepper spray, a common deterrent, actually may attract bears if used incorrectly - that is, applied to tents, containers or clothing as opposed to sprayed directly at a bear. Smith also published a study on the use of "bear bells," which hikers hang from walking sticks, belts or backpacks on the theory that a noisy approach will keep them from catching a bear off guard. He hung a row of the noisy bells on a bush. Over time, 15 grizzly bears wandered past the bells as he rang them; the beasts "didn’t even twitch an ear." "Some things that are taught as standard safety messages, I think, Why in the world do we do that? " he said. \*/

"The overwhelming majority of bears have no desire to deal with people," Smith said. However, "there are those Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Kaczynski bears," like the human murderers, that set out to kill. Shelton delivered a paper for the International Bear Association conference that details his theory: Black bears, in certain circumstances, will indeed prey on humans. "There’s going to be a slow, steady increase of predatory black bear attacks that will catch bear managers off guard," he predicted. Shelton pointed out that because black bears and grizzlies evolved from a common ancestor, a "true predator," each species is capable of predatory attacks. \*/

“So the common advice to fight a black bear but play dead for a grizzly may not hold true, particularly if the bear has targeted a human as prey. After conducting in-depth interviews with 40 survivors of attack by bears, both black and grizzly, Shelton now takes "a strong position against playing dead." "If the bear is deciding if you’re prey, and you play dead, that’s exactly what happens to you," he said. He devotes a chapter in his upcoming book to the topic. So what is the best way to protect yourself in bear country? Shelton said to carry pepper spray and use it correctly - shoot it directly at the bear, then leave the area immediately, as the bear will be temporarily stunned by the burning sensation. "Even though the spray success rate runs at about 75 percent, it is a far better strategy than the play dead/fight back concept," Shelton said.” \*/

Dealing with Pesky Bears in Japan

In 2004, the year of a high number of bear attacks, people became very scared. Rural people began wearing bells and other noisemakers. Children were escorted to schools. Elderly people traveled in groups. After numerous bear sightings in 2010, Hiromasa Takeda and Takahiro Komazaki wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Patrols have been organized and other precautions taken in areas frequented by bears.".The city government of Uozu has issued an emergency warning about wild bears, and the town government of Iidemachi has advised residents to refrain from going outdoors in the morning and evening, when bear sightings have been most common. The Iidemachi government has given all local primary and middle schools loud bells to drive away bears, and some primary schools have asked parents to transport their children to and from school by car." [Source: Hiromasa Takeda and Takahiro Komazaki, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 24, 2010]

“Sakue Ono, 60, who cultivates apples in Numata, Gunma Prefecture, sets off flares every morning to scare away any bears that might be near his property. He also installed electric fences, but even that has failed to stop bears from intruding in his field." "I'm afraid the bears might have learned how to get around the fences. For example, maybe they push a fence over by using their hip, so the thick fur protects it from electric shock," he told the Yomiuri Shimbun. [Ibid]

“A local government in Kyoto Prefecture has set up buffer zones between forests and residential communities by clearing undergrowth at the foot of mountains, where wild animals sometimes hide, so that people can easily spot them. While many such trial-and-error efforts are continuing across the nation, none have been successful in totally preventing bears from approaching areas where humans live." An official of the local government in Kyoto Prefecture said: "We're dealing with wild animals. All we can do is try every possible option, one by one." [Ibid]

In Hyogo Prefecture black bears have been trained to fear humans. Pesky bears that have frequently showed up in residential areas have been caught and frightened with firecrackers and pepper spray and other means and then released with transmitters so their movements could be monitored. After being released 75 percent of the bears avoided residential areas. Of these 62 percent did not go within two kilometers of residential areas and 12 percent came near residential area but did not enter them.

The Fukui government spent $800,000 to outfit four bears with radio collars and GPS device to monitor their progress. In Tochigi Prefecture their travel patterns are observed using a satellite designed to check the migratory patterns of whales.

Training Brown Bears and Reintroducing Them to the Wild

Charles Russell and Maureen Enns, two Canadians that lived among bears on the Kamchatka Peninsula, taught bears by orphaned by poachers how live in the wilderness. Russell and Enns taught the bears how to fish but had more difficulty preparing them to hibernate.

Bears have been taught to wrestle, box, dance, play a trumpet, ride a bicycle and slide on a toboggan. They have been fixture of circuses and outdoor entertainment since the Middle Ages. Russians have along tradition of catching bears an training them to perform tricks. Brown bears have traditionally been fixtures of Russian circuses.

Gypsies often wandered from town to town with bears on a chain and gave people the opportunity to wrestle them. In Istanbul men walk the streets with large muzzled brown bears. For centuries bears have been captured by Qalanders, an itinerant group of performers in India, and taken from village to village to performer for handouts from villagers. The bears are trained to do tricks as well as dance. To keep them under control the bears often have a ring through bones of the animal's nose, mouth and muzzle. The original dancing bear reportedly began dancing after eating fermented Mohwa tree flowers. Today a pull on the rope is all that is necessary to get a bear to "dance" in pain.

Brown Bear Hunting

The easiest way to hunt a bears is with a helicopter. Large males are preferred as trophies. In some places it is illegal to hunt females and cubs.

Bear hunters in Siberia teach their dogs to immobilize bears by biting its haunches. The dogs practice on a chained bear and dog owners pay up to a $100 a session for their dogs to learn the practice. Describing it, Richard Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Pavelenko and Guz take the bear to a clearing in the forest and chain it to a cable strung between two trees. Using the bear's dung, they will make a simulated trail through the woods for the dogs to discover.

"One at a time," Paddock wrote, "the dogs will be released to 'track' the bear. The key moment will come when the dog has found he bear and the owner can see how it reacts. The best dog is the one that bites the bear on the backside so its sits down," Pavlenko told him. "The dog keeps the bear that way so the hunter can approach the bear and shoot it."

Grizzly Man

Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man is a film about a man—Malibu resident Timothy Treadwell— who lived among grizzlies as was ultimately eaten by them. Herzog said the story shows that the world is not about peace and harmony but rather “chaos, hostility and murder,” adding “And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior.”

For thirteen consecutive summers, Treadwell moved to Katmai in the Alaskan Peninsula to live among the grizzly bears, with the pretext of studying and protecting them. In 2003, he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were surprisingly attacked one the bears he thought he had “befriended.” He event was captured in a tape recording (See Brown Bear Attacks). [Source: IMDb *-*]

Pieced together from Timothy Treadwell's actual video footage, Werner Herzog's remarkable documentary examines the calling that drove Treadwell to live among a tribe of wild grizzly bears on an Alaskan reserve. A devoted conservationist with a passion for adventure, Timothy believed he had bridged the gap between human and beast. When one of the bears he loved and protected tragically turns on him, the footage he shot serves as a window into our understanding of nature and its grim realities. [Source: Google]

In one scene Treadwell says: “I'm out in the prime cut of big green. Behind me is Ed and Rowdy, members of an up-and-coming sub-adult gang. They're challenging everything, including me. Goes with the territory. If I show weakness, if I retreat, I may be hurt, I may be killed. I must hold my own if I'm gonna stay within this land. For once there is weakness they will exploit it, they will take me out, they will decapitate me, they will chop me into bits and pieces. I'm dead. But so far, I persevere. Persevere. *-*

The film does not air the recording of the attack that killed Treadwell and his girlfriend. Viewers do, however, see Werner Herzog listening to the tape, but Herzog decided not to feature the recording in the film. According to IMDb: “During the attack which claims the life of Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, a videocamera was left running. While the lens cap was left on the camera does record the last moments of their lives. The tape is now in possession of one of Treadwell's friends, who has never listened to it. Out of respect for Timothy Treadwell and Annie Huguenard, and out of basic human decency, Herzog does not include the recording in the film, although there is a scene of him listening to it. It should be pointed out that since the manner of Treadwell and Huguenard's deaths are known from forensic evidence, including the audio tape would have no instructive value to the film and would only serve to feed the morbid curiosity of many people.” *-*

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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