Grizzly Bears and Safety Tips
If you are planning on spending time in the backcountry, you need to become Bear Aware. Knowledge is the key to ensuring the safety of both you and the bear.
You want to know the difference between Black Bears and Grizzly Bears
Grizzly bears are the undisputed monarch of the wild and a symbol of the Canadian wilderness. Be careful not to confuse this fella with his cousin the black bear.
You can identify a grizzly by its humped shoulder, white-tipped back hair and extra long claws, as long as human fingers. A male grizzly weighs between 200 and 350 kg and can reach a height of three meters when standing on his hind legs. Grizzly cubs will nurse for up to three years. The Cubs begin eating solid food at an early age which makes them become very quickly not dependent on the mother’s milk. Grizzly bears may intake up to 90 lbs of food each day and they can run as fast as 55 km per hour. Life expectancy of grizzly bears is 15 – 20 years.
Grizzly bears are solitary animals and contrary to popular belief, the grizzly bears are not a true hibernator, they can remain active over winter. Although they are considered meat eaters, they actually are omnivorous, which means they eat both meat and vegetation and rely mostly on vegetation for food. Canada is home to both, grizzly bears and black bears and you can run into bears everywhere, on a busy trail close to town or in the remote backcountry. Bears generally prefer to avoid people. However, encounters between bears and people do occur.
Know how to avoid an encounter with a bear is the best way to enjoy the backcountry safely.
If you cross the path with Grizzly Bears it’s important to know what to do
Both, Grizzly bears and black bears don’t like surprises. When out in the woods, try to be loud, sing a camp song, attach a small tinkling bell on your belt, make LOTS of noise. It’s wise not to explore dark, unknown caves or hollow logs, as these are major places to come across grizzly bears. Pick up ALL garbage, cooking supplies and clean up thoroughly after meal outside, no matter where you are. Bears have a keen sense of smell and can pick up a scent a mile off. Secure food overnight by hanging it in the air from a tree branch when camping in the backcountry.
If you have been spotted by a bear, stop and don’t move
Speak to the bear in a low calm voice and slowly raise your arms in the air, making you appear bigger. Tuck away the camera and leave this for a time when you’re inside a car. If you see a bear with a cub, leave quickly. Mother bear’s main priority will be protecting her cubs, leaving little room for negotiation if she feels threatened. Back off slowly, retrace your footsteps, avoid crossing the path of the bear. Do not run, you won’t be able to outrun him! Don’t look the bear in the eye!
You think the situation doesn’t look good, find a tree and climb it
A grizzly bear is not as a good climber as his cousins the black bear, a height of 2 – 4 meters should be sufficient to be safe. A less desirable option is to play dead. Adopt the fetal position, protecting your most vulnerable part, and maybe try putting your backpack on top for an extra layer of protection. This shows the bear that you are not threatening and you might get a sniff and a growl and hopefully, he will leave you alone. Identification of bears does play an important part here.
Only play dead if you meet a grizzly. If you come across a black bear, do not play dead. He probably would only see you as a chase-free lunch option.
If you’re out there hiking you shouldn’t worry too much. As a fact, there is a far greater chance of being hit by lightning than being attack by a bear. The bears tend to be content with staying well clear of us. When I hike in the wild, especially without my dog, I take my bear spray along, just in case. It gives me a peace of mind, but in all these years I never had to use it.
Go to Parks Canada Website for more information on grizzly bears.