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Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Keep the "Wild" in Wildlife

National parks are great places to view wildlife in their natural habitat. However, once animals become accustomed to people, they are in danger of losing their "wildness". Habituated animals (those that have lost their natural fear of humans) can be dangerous because they appear docile and may come too close to humans. By acting responsibly, you can help ensure that future generation have an opportunity to see wildlife that is truly wild.

Parks Canada has a Responsibility to protect wildlife and their habitat. With your cooperation, bears, wolves, cougars and people can co-exist.

Black Bear
Black Bear
© Parks Canada

Problem Wildlife are Created by People

Black Bears are opportunists, always on the lookout for "easy" calories. Once they find human food or garbage (if they become food-conditioned), they continue to seek it out from backpacks, picnic tables, coolers, etc. If they become accustomed to humans, their natural fear of people fades and they take more chances to find food rewards. These "spoiled bears" are unpredictable and may be aggressive.

Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to manage habituated, food-conditioned black bears. These bears often pay with their lives for human mistakes. The only true solution is not to create "problem bears" in the first place by making sure all food, trash, and other possible bear attractants are stored properly.

Avoid a Bear Encounter

Do not surprise a black bear.

  • Hike in a group... most bears will leave the area if they are aware of your presence.
  • Stay on established trails and hike only in daylight.
  • Keep children close at hand and within sight
  • Use extra caution when travelling near rushing water or into the wind. A bear may not be able to hear or smell you coming.
  • Stay in the open as much as possible

Be alert! Watch for signs. Tracks, droppings, diggings, torn-up logs, and scratched trees may indicate that a bear is nearby.

Black Bears signs, tracks, droppings, and scratches
Black Bears signs, tracks, droppings, and scratches
© Parks Canada

Use caution when travelling near natural bear foods. Berries, fish, and carrion (dead animals) are all food sources for bears, which they may defend. If you come upon any of these items, use extra caution; always report the presence of dead animals to park staff.

Dog safety. Dogs may infuriate a bear, inciting an attack. Your dog may then run to you with the bear in pursuit! Keep dogs on a leash at all times and never leave them unattended.

Black Bear with cubs
Black Bear with cubs
© Parks Canada

Watch for cubs. Bears may become aggressive if they feel their young are threatened. Never pass between a mother and her cub(s).

Watch for area closures and bear warnings. It is illegal to enter a closed area. Area closures are posted in places where bear activity poses a danger to visitors. Bear warnings are posted in areas when there is bear activity and the chance of an encounter is heightened. Use caution in these areas.

Cyclists! Your speed and quietness put you at risk for sudden bear encounters. Slow down through shrubbed areas and when approaching blind corners. Make noise, be alert and always look ahead.

If You Encounter a Bear

Despite taking precautions, you may still encounter a bear. Remember that bears are complex, intelligent animals and no two encounters are alike. There is no single strategy that will work in each situation, but you can minimize your risk by following these guidelines:

Keep calm.
Think ahead; your brain is your best defence against a bear encounter. Plan how to respond if you encounter a bear.

Don't run. Bears can easily outrun you.
By running you may trigger an attack. Pick up small children and stay in a group.

Give the bear space.
Back away slowly and talk in a soft voice. Do not approach the bear or make direct eye contact.

Leave the area or make a wide detour.
If you cannot leave, wait until the bear moves out of the way and ensure that it has an escape route.

The bear may approach you or rear up on its hind legs.
Bears are often curious. If one stands on its hind legs, it is most likely trying to catch your scent; this is not necessarily a sign of aggression. Back away slowly and talk in a soft voice.

Do not drop objects, clothing, or food to distract the bear.
If the bear receives food, it will have been rewarded for its aggressive behaviour, thereby increasing the likelihood that it will repeat that behaviour again.

Watch for aggressive behaviours. A bear may display aggression by swinging its head from side to side; making vocalizations such as huffs, snorts, whoops, or moans; displaying teeth or claws; jaw popping; swatting at the ground; staring with eye contact; panting; or laying its ears back. These behaviours usually indicate that the bear is stressed, acting defensively and asking for more space - provide it!

If an Attack Occurs

Black bear attacks are rare! However, if one occurs, there are varying recommended responses depending on the situation. Remember that these are only guidelines and that each encounter is unique.

Defensive attack:
If you surprise a bear and it responds to defend itself, its young or its food - and contact has been made or is imminent - play dead (lie on your stomach with your legs apart; protect your face, the back of your head and neck with your arms; remain silent; and if wearing a pack, leave it on for protection). Remember: such attacks are rare despite the much more common aggressive displays without contact by black bears. The bear will leave you alone once it believes the threat is passed.

Offensive attack:
This is the most serious and potentially deadly attack a black bear might make! It occurs when a bear appears to stalk or follow you for a period of time and then chooses to attack; or the bear attacks you at night. In this situation, playing dead is not appropriate. Try to escape to a secure place such as a vehicle or hard-sided camper. Climbing a tree is an option, but remember that black bears can climb trees easily. If you cannot escape and a bear continues its pursuit, react aggressively and try to intimidate the bear. If this fails, fight back with anything at hand such as rocks, sticks, knives, bear spray or other possible weapons to let the bear know that you are not easy prey. Act as a group if you are part of one. Don't forget to yell; help may be close by.

Chemical bear repellents/bear sprays contain a derivative of cayenne pepper. When sprayed directly into an animal's face, they cause eye and upper respiratory tract irritation. Although such sprays can be effective when used properly, wind and other circumstances may alter their effect on the animal. Therefore, use them with caution and always follow the manufacturer's directions. Bear sprays do not guarantee your safety, but is recommended for travel within bear habitat.

How you can help
Do your part to limit human impact on wildlife and help ensure that future generations have the opportunity to see wildlife that are truly "wild".

  • If you spot a bear on the side of the road, consider not stopping.
  • Bear-proof your campsite and keep it attractant-free (Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has a BARE Campsite policy).
  • Before hiking, think about what bears are doing and how you can give them room.
  • Use only official trails and leave wildlife trails to wildlife.
  • Respect temporary and seasonal closures.

Remember that conservation isn't just about bears; it's about protecting the whole ecosystem. Wild spaces and wilderness values can survive as long as we strive to be stewards, not consumers, of wildness.

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