This is a prevention message and in advance I’d like to apologize for its monotous parts but I do think it is important to say it, and important to read it… at least, I hope so.
In Canada, and even more in provinces like the Yukon, we are not sheltered from a meeting with… a bear ! So, of course, when you do go to the visitor center and decide to take every prospectus in sight, you are confronted to a bunch of You are in bear country, In the wild Yukon, or How to be safe in bear country. You’d understand now, forget about psychopaths who have crual murdering wishes, bears are the enemy number one in the Yukon.
Lesson number one, know your bears.
In the Yukon, there are three species of bears : Black bears, Grizzlies, and Polar bears. Forget about Polar Bears for now, we are in Whitehorse and not in Old Crow ! So we’re going to learn the differences between a black bear and a grizzli.
First of all, it’s not because a bear is black that it is a black bear. And vice versa, it’s not because a bear isn’t black that it is a grizzli. Most of the black bears in the Yukon are brownish.
So here are four differences to make you able to distinguish a black bear from a grizzli :
1) In profile, the grizzly bear has a distinct shoulder hump. Black bears lack the shoulder hump of the grizzly. The highest part of a black bear’s back is over hind legs.
2) Black bears have a “Roman” profile, with a straight line running between the forehead and the tip of the nose. Grizzly bears have a dished-in profile, with a clear depression between the eyes and the end of the nose.
3) Front claws of the black bear are dark coloured, relatively short and well curved. For the grizzli, front claws are light coloured, 10cm long or longer and slightly curved.
4) Tracks of black bears often do not include claw imprints and the toes imprint have space in between. Tracks of grizzlies usually include claw imprints and the toes imprint are very close to touching.
We can notice that a grizzli would be a lot more massive than a black bear. Adult males grizzlies weigh about 250kg (550lbs) and adul females can weigh 150kg (330lbs). Adult males black bears weigh about 135kg (300lbs) and adult females weigh only 70kg (150lbs) on average. Huge difference !
Good to know that black bears are agile climbers.
Here you go, you now know how to recognize a black bear from a grizzli.
Lesson number two, keep safe.
Well, it’s really nice to know the difference between the two of them but… do you want to meet one anyways ? I have to say I was dying to see one when I first arrived… mmh, I changed my mind after a few hikes by myself ! In the end, it’s sort of stressful to realize that, at any moment, you can encounter one of those big teddy bears ! So this next lesson is to learn how NOT to encounter a bear.
1) Hike in a group… most bears will leave the area if they are aware of your presence.
2) Make noise! Let bears know you’re there – call out, clap hands, sing or talk loudly – especially near streams, dense vegetation and berry patches, on windy days, and in areas of low visibility. As far as I’m concerned, I learned to whistle my favorites songs and to sing nursery rhymes at the top of my voice when hiking by myself… sometimes, I even clap my hands when I can’t see what’s coming in front of me… no, people don’t think I’m crazy… do not ask yourself anymore why it’s raining all the time my Yukon friends, you found the guilty party ! And if, one day, you hear a bear singing « Il était un petit navire », you can be sure that this bear lived in my area at some point !
3) Stay alert, stay alive! Watch for bears in the area and for their sign – tracks, droppings, diggings, torn-up logs, and turned-over rocks. Leave the area if you see fresh sign. (and do not think everything you see around you is the proof of a bear being in the area as I do, this is simply called paranoia)
4) Never approach or feed a bear. Keep a distance of at least 100 metres. Running after a bear or getting closer to a bear for a better picture isn’t a good idea… no silly actions ! Houra to binoculars and/or telephoto lens !
There, you shouldn’t have any problem.
Lesson number three, what to do if you encounter a bear.
Ok, I know I said before that you shouldn’t meet one with those advices but… THERE IS ALWAYS A F*CKING BUT ! HA HA! Maybe you’ll meet one anyways so you better know what to do if it happens.
If the bear doesn’t know you’re there, pray God (or whoever you want to pray) so he doesn’t see you afterwards. Kidding… move away quietly, watching for any change in its behaviour. Make a wide detour and try to leave undetected.
Now, if the bear becomes aware of your presence, well, pray again! Hum. Seriously… stay calm (so easy to say, right?), and in a non-threatening way, let it know you’re a human. Talk to it in a low respectful voice (yes, you have to respect the big teddy bear). Wave your arms slowly. Even if it seems unconcerned, never approach a bear: if you crowd it, you might provoke an aggressive response. Instead, walk away slowly, avoiding sudden movements keeping an eye on the bear (NEVER turn your back to a bear!). And don’t run: that could trigger a chase and believe me (as if I would know), bears are good runners !
If you do as tell, you should be fine. Most of the time, a bear’s usual response to detecting a person is to move away, not to jump on you and eat you up for supper !
Lesson number four, what to do if a bear approaches you.
Yes, I know, a bear isn’t supposed to attack you but… you know, this fucking BUT again !!! So, if a bear approaches you, it might be for two reasons. Either it is trying to defend itself, or it is trying to eat you up. It’s a question of luck here…
It may be reacting defensively, perceiving you as a threat—to itself, its cubs, or its food. Whatever
the cause, a defensive bear will likely appear agitated or stressed. With grizzlies, defensive attacks almost always stem from surprising a bear at close range—when it’s on a carcass—or protecting its young. On the rare occasion when a black bear attacks defensively, it usually involves a mother
defending her young. Grizzlies are more subject to attack you. If you think a bear is reacting DEFENSIVELY, your goal is to avoid being seen as a threat. A defensive bear is stressed by
1) Stay calm.
2) Talk to the bear, and let it know you mean no harm.
3) When it no longer feels threatened, it may simply retreat. When it’s no longer advancing, start
slowly moving away—still reassuring it in a calm voice.
4) If the defensive bear advances again, stop and stand your ground once more! If the bear seems intent on attack, use your deterrent.
5) Finally, if a DEFENSIVE bear attacks, wait as long as you can before it strikes you, then fall straight to the ground, face down, with your legs spread slightly. Lock your fingers behind your neck. Protect your face and vital organs. If the bear flips you over, roll back onto your stomach. Don’t cry out or fight back. Once a defensive bear no longer thinks you’re a threat, it will stop
attacking. Lie still and wait for the bear to leave. Moving too soon may provoke another assault.
Now, the worse situation ever. Whatever its motivation, when a non-defensive bear moves toward you, it will show little stress—and your response needs to be assertive: Stay calm and talk to the bear in a firm voice.
1) Try to move out of its way (without running!) it may simply want to continue on its path.
2) If the bear follows and stays focused on you, you’re in a dangerous situation: it’s time to become aggressive. Shout! Stare the bear in the eye. Make yourself appear as large and threatening as possible. Let it know you’ll fight if attacked. Stamp your feet and take a step or two towards the bear. Stand on a rock or log. Threaten the bear with anything you can. And use your deterrent.
3) If a NON-DEFENSIVE bear attacks, fight back with all your might. Use any weapon within reach. At this point, you’re dealing with a predatory bear intent on eating you. Be as aggressive as possible, concentrating on the bear’s face, eyes and nose. Don’t give up! You may be fighting for your life…!