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First thing you learn as soon as you arrive in Yukon is that you are in bear country – it is especially obvious when you enter a visitor center and ask for hiking/biking trails. And the reality is, you can encounter a bear anywhere in the Yukon, in a campground, on a hiking trail, along the road or in the wilderness for obvious reasons. You`re in their home so it`s a good thing to know how to deal with these beautiful animals in the wild if you encounter one.
Bears are intelligent and curious animals and their sense of smell is very strong. They are also good and agile runners and can reach 60 km/h! Yukon is home to about 17,000 bears divided mainly in two species, black bear and grizzly bear. The main distinguishing feature is that black bears lack a shoulder hump, have shorter front claws and are generally smaller than grizzlies. Although everyone would love to see one up close, that’s definitely not a good idea and the best thing is to prevent bear encounters. If you do encounter one, then here’s what we learn about how to handle the encounter. Be safe and good luck! The below tips are based on what we learnt and our experience in bear country – we hope they will help you reduce risks but they are not in any case 100% bear-proof. Always check with information points and Parks Canada for more in-depth information and for bear activity.
Make noise – lots of it, especially close to bears’ habitat (streams, berry patches, forests…) or on windy days. Talk loudly, sing or clap hands or use two sticks as musical instruments. Bears will know you`re coming and recognize you as humans.Travel in groups as more intimidating to bears
Stay alert – Watch for bears and their tracks (droppings, turned-over rocks, claw marks on logs, diggings...). If they are fresh, leave the area as soon as possible or turn around.
Minimize attractants – All things that smell may attract bears, in particular garbage, food, scented toiletries, gas stoves (or other petroleum-based products). Bring low-odour dried or pre-packaged food with you. When camping pack food and garbage in bear-resistant containers; if possible, burn your garbage and clean tins/bags of residual food. Some equipped campsites have bear-proof storing facilities.
IF YOU SEE A BEAR
That`s actually exciting, wildlife viewing in their habitat is a privilege and you have to keep in mind this is their home. Your behavior will mostly depend on the bear behavior so be ready to assess the situation. If the bear is not aware of your presence, then walk away calmly and make a wide detour or during roadside viewing stay inside your vehicle and possibly don`t stop and keep a safe distance. If the bear is aware of your presence, then try to understand if he’s just defensive or it sees you as a prey.
When a bear is defensive, it sees you as a threat and may woof, growl, moan. Its ears may be laid back and it may jump forward, slap the ground or swat nearby objects. It may even charge you and then stop at short distance. In this case:
Stay CALM – Avoid screams or sudden movements which may trigger an attack.
Speak to the bear in a LOW VOICE – to let it know you`re human and you’re not a threat.
DON’T RUN! - Back away slowly and never approach it.
Make yourself appear BIG – Waive your arms slowly and stay in group.
Do NOT DROP your PACK – It can protect you in case of attack – plus, you don`t want bears to get used to human food if that`s what they`re after. This might cause many more future attack and eventually the bear will need to be killed.
STAY YOUR GROUND – in case the bear start advancing and prepare to use your deterrents.
Use DETERRENTS - If the bear comes too close, then use the air horn and if it doesn`t work, bear spray it!
PLAY DEAD in case of attack – fall to the ground only just before the bear strikes you and try to appear as much non-threatening as possible, so don`t cry out or fight back, stay still and if flipped over, keep rolling back to your stomach and protect your vital organs. Usually these attacks don`t last more than 2 minutes.
When the bear is predatory, that`s another story – it may approach you more boldly and persistently and have its head up and ears erect. All above tips are still valid, you may just want to appear more aggressive in your voice tone and big as you can (moving uphill or stand on a log or rock).
If the bear attacks you, first try to escape (into a building, car or up a tree if it`s grizzly as black bear are good climbers). If not possible, FIGHT BACK!
Use any weapons you have (sticks, rocks, knifes…)
Be very aggressive and try to attack the bear’s face, eyes and nose
Don`t give up! We`ve been told a black bear will try to kill you on the spot while a grizzly will wound you and then will bury you to rotten before coming back to maybe eat you – that scares me a lot when I heard that but remember this is really rare and if you have been careful, bears will keep a distance.
WHAT WE BRING WITH US
p.s. firearms are not permitted in national parks or historic sites in Canada
Bear Bell – Although bells are not enough to make noise, they will save you lots of talking and singing, especially during uphill ascent. Hang it outside your backpack and make noise!
Air Horn – This is a very powerful noisemaker which can reach up to 20 metres. This is to be used when the bear is approaching you to scare it away. In many cases, the strong sound will discourage the curious bear, but it probably won`t be enough for attacking bears.
Bear Spray – This should only be used at close range on an aggressive or attacking bear. Before setting off for your adventure make sure you know how to use it and be aware of wind, distance, rain, freezing temperatures..before discharging it against a bear. Basically, don`t spray it when you`re upwind or it can disable you instead of the bear!