The Possibility Of Seeing A Grizzly Bear & Safety
Will I see a Grizzly Bear on my trip?
On this trip, the only animal you may see that is more intimidating than the black bear is the powerful grizzly bear. Grizzly bears are much less common than Black Bears in the areas that we paddle but nonetheless, they have been spotted throughout our region. Grizzly Bears, also known as silvertip bears, or scientifically, Ursus arctos horribilis, is a subspecies of the brown bear. Grizzly bears are often hulking creatures, growing to weigh up to 1,500 lbs. and stretch up to 8 ft. tall. This species has most likely been in existence for a million years but today; they are much less common than the American black bear and are a species of “special concern” here in Canada. Hunting and human influence over the past 100 years has depleted their populations greatly but reinstatement efforts over recent decades have been fairly successful and the threat of extinction is not as imminent as it was once thought to be. If you paddle anywhere near one of British Columbia’s plentiful salmon runs then keep your eyes peeled, the grizzly bears are known to feast on these fish.
It is an exhilarating experience to see a bear in its natural habitat but let’s remember that unless it is the cuddly species Teddy Bear, it is a dangerous and deadly animal. Every year, humans are attacked and even killed in conflicts with black and grizzly bears, often because they are uneducated on bear safety. Knowing how to safely camp in bear country can help ensure a completely safe camping experience. It will also make you more confident in the rare case of a bear confrontation.
Do not feed bears. The best way to keep bears away from your campsite is not to feed them or leave food in a location where they can reach it. No matter where you camp, food should be sealed airtight in a trunk or hung out of the reach of bears. Your cooking area should be in a separate area of the campsite from your sleeping area. On our kayaking expeditions, we keep all food supplies sealed tightly overnight in our kayaks’ airtight storage compartments. The kayaks are then beached a safe distance from where our tents are set-up. It is important for all campers to keep products such as shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste away from their tents as well as their odors can attract bears. Once these precautions are taken, people are extremely safe in their tents at night and just in case a bear wanders onto the campsite, all of our guides are equipped with bear spray that will steer away bears in the case of an emergency.
Dealing with Encounters
Wild bears usually like to keep their distance and most encounters with humans are accidental. If a bear can hear humans in the area they are likely to move away on their own, so it is always good to be noisy. Bears also do not like it when people sneak up on them. You can avoid accidentally doing this on a hike by attaching bells to a walking stick or by simply talking loudly on your hike. Being out in the wild it is always tempting to sleep under the stars, but to ensure maximum protection from bears at night, it is best to stay in your tent.
In the very unlikely circumstance that you encounter a bear during your camping experience, it is important not to panic and run. Even with their massive size, bears can run faster than you and swim better than you. Unless you have a safe place to run to within reach, stay calm, knowing how to behave properly around bears will most likely keep any encounters harmless.
If you stumble across a bear, move away cautiously. Sudden movements could intimidate the bear but if you remain calm, it will likely do the same. If a bear stands up when you encounter it, it is probably trying to identify you. In this circumstance, talk to the bear softly while backing away. Do not make eye contact in this case but also do not let the bear out of your sight. When backing away, drop your pack or any objects you have on you and leave them behind to take the bears attention off you and with the objects. In the case that a bear becomes predatory and attacks, there are different recommendations as to what actions you should take depending on what type of bear it is. For this reason, it is important to be able to tell the distance between grizzly bears and black bears. (See section below)
In the event that a grizzly attacks you, wildlife experts advise you to assume the “cannonball position” and play dead. Put your hands behind your neck and put your face into your knees to best protect your head. If you fight back against a grizzly, it will further provoke the bear whereas playing dead could cause it to lose interest.
In the event that a black bear attacks, do not play dead. The best behavior here would be to try and retreat from the bear. In your retreat, it will be helpful to throw rocks and any other items you can find within reach as weapons to try and scare off the bear.
If attacked in your sleep, by a grizzly or a black bear, do not play dead. The best thing here is to try and escape. Once away from the bear throw things at it to keep it away.
Distinguishing Black Bears from Grizzly Bears
There are a few differences in the appearances of black and grizzly bears that can help you to identify which one is which. First, look for white-tipped or “grizzled” fur. Grizzly bears often have this as well as light-colored patches around the neck, shoulder and backs. Spotting on the fur of a black bear is usually limited to a white patch at the chest or throat. Another characteristic that grizzly bears have and black bears don’t is a prominent shoulder hump. While black bears have a hump, it is barely noticeable. Black bears also have a straight face profile where as a grizzly bear has a dished and longer face. The areas that these two bears prefer to hang out in are also different. Black bears stick to the forest while grizzly bears prefer open spaces. Grizzly bears are not found on Vancouver Island.