Posted in News

Travel in Grizzly and Cougar Territory: Recommendations for a Safe Journey

The news of several recent bear attacks on humans — including one near Yellowstone and another in Alaska — serves as an important reminder to be aware of wildlife while enjoying the outdoors. Understanding the behavior of grizzlies and mountain lions can help prevent negative interactions with hikers and campers.

Grizzly bears are a wide-ranging species found in the Arctic, western Canada and the northwestern United States. Grizzlies are mostly herbivores, although they may have a varied diet. Occasionally, garbage, livestock, and grains serve as food sources from a habitat shared with humans. Increased human access to bear territory, primarily through roads, adds to the frequency of contact and potential conflict between humans and bears, and is the greatest threat to grizzly livelihood.

Bears react to humans in different ways depending on the animal’s sex, age, health, the season, whether cubs are nearby, or if there is an available escape route. Although far from the ferocious man-killers depicted in the media, grizzlies can be dangerous, particularly when surprised.

Mountain lions also maintain large territories in a variety of environments, preferring areas with dense undergrowth and cover. Unfortunately, sport hunting — a leading cause of mountain lion mortality — may actually increase the likelihood of attacks on humans by upping the number of younger, inexperienced lions in relation to the overall population.

Though they often play a starring role in our myths and legends, grizzlies and cougars are elusive with ever-dwindling populations; it is highly unusual to even catch a glimpse of them in remote wilderness areas. However, should you, Ethical Travelers, encounter these creatures, Alberta’s BearSmart program and the Mountain Lion Foundation recommend following these basic rules to stay safe:

1. First, assess the situation. Is it a black bear or a grizzly? Are there cubs, and where are they in relation to you and the bear? Do not make any sudden moves or loud noises. Avoid direct eye contact.

2. Talk quietly while slowly backing up; always give a bear enough opportunity and space to leave on its own.

3. Never run! A bear will often make a “bluff” charge, only to turn away at the last moment. Running will trigger a more aggressive response in both animals.

4. If you happen upon a cougar, open your jacket, wave your raised arms slowly, and throw whatever is on hand in the cougar’s direction; this will make you appear larger and more aggressive, and it will discourage predatory behavior.

5. In the rare event of a bear attack, cover your neck and head, roll into a “cannonball” position, and play dead until the bear leaves. However, if attacked at night, consider it predatory in nature and fight back!

6. If attacked by a cougar, try to remain standing to protect head and neck and defend yourself without turning your back.

7. All things considered, stay in groups when in the wilderness. A group of people is far less vulnerable than an individual.

(Visited 14 times, 1 visits today)

Read Ethical Traveler's Reprint Policy.