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Field Work: Bear Behavior in the Wild

Be bear aware or be bear fare. These hints will be tempered for the casual observer not for the person who wants to get that up close and personal shot. The first and foremost rule is to never approach any bear closer than the Park regulations. Two things can happen here: a ticket by the rangers in the Park or a potential serious confrontation with the bear. The ticket is preferable, given the options. These rules are not arbitrary; they have been put in place based on many years of experience and study.

All bears in a population have personalities that vary. Some are curious, some are shy, and some want to sit with you and share your dinner and some want you for dinner. All are smart! Never make the mistake that since one bear acted one way they all will act in the same manner. Never sneak up on a bear, either purposefully or by mistake. Never try to interfere with a bear's cubs or a bear during mating season. Never interfere with a feeding bear or hangout near a bear's refrigerator (food source). Never feed bears either in the field or from the supposed safety of a vehicle. A fed bear will always come back to humans for food and it will probably be a very short time before an injury or fatality occurs. The bear always loses when you feed them. Always listen to the Rangers in the park that you are visiting. They are your best source for up to the minute bear conditions. If an area is posted as closed by the Rangers, please stay out. When they close an area, it is for the protection of critical habitat or for the protection of people due to some unforeseen bear activity.

Working with bears and all large mammals closer than the Park Service regulations is a risky and sporty business. Many individuals that challenge these distance zones have been seriously injured and killed. All of these animals mean serious business when they are provoked. If your choice is to interfere with the comfort zone of these animals, you have to be prepared for the serious consequences that can result.

Three other animals that can do considerable damage to humans are elk, moose and bison. The most common reasons these animals attack humans are when we interfere with their comfort zones. Some people actually walk up and touch these animals. I would be very interested to know what goes through that person's mind as they approach a 2,000 pound bison to give it a pat on the skull. Hospitalization generally is the reward for this act of abject stupidity. The one and only lesson here is GIVE THEM SOME SPACE. If you give them their space, you will be rewarded with some great photo and viewing opportunities with the added benefit of no doctor visits.

Explore Bears Unlimited Inc. for more information about bears.

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