As a national park visitor, you share this natural area with bears and other wildlife that depend on it for their survival. Although bears are naturally wary of humans, they will defend their young, or take risks to obtain a food reward. By increasing your knowledge of bear behaviour, you can help reduce the likelihood of an unpleasant encounter and help protect the black bear population.

With your cooperation, bears and people can co-exist. The information on this page will help protect both yourself and the black bears in Prince Albert National Park.

Why bears behave the way they do

Remember to give the bear plenty of room as bears generally prefer to avoid people. A bear’s natural avoidance behaviour can shift to aggression because of the following factors:

  1. You surprise them.
  2. They are protecting young.
  3. They are protecting a food source or a mate.
  4. Your dog provokes a negative encounter.
  5. The bear has lost its natural fear of humans.
  6. The bear feels trapped.

Bears might appear to be slow moving or unconcerned with your presence but they can be dangerous. Although bears are naturally wary of humans, they will defend their young, or take risks to obtain a food reward. Be aware of your surroundings. Take responsibility for your safety and actions. Black bears can run at speeds up to 50 km/hr.

Avoiding a Bear Encounter

Never approach bears. Give wildlife space.
Stay back at least 100m distance if you see a bear.

Travel as part of a group if possible, keep pets leashed and children close by.

Make noise! Let bears know you’re there. Call out, clap hands, sing or talk loudly – especially near streams, dense vegetation and berry patches or on windy days and in areas of low visibility. Research shows bear bells are not enough.

Watch for bear sign, including tracks, droppings, digging and torn-up logs. Leave the area if the signs are fresh.

Keep your dog on a leash at all times. Dogs can provoke defensive behaviour in bears and other wildlife.

If you come across any dead animals, leave the area immediately and report it to park staff.
For the safety of everyone, obey all area closures.

Cyclists & Trail Runners
Your speed and quietness put you at risk for sudden encounters with bears. Make noise, cycle or run in groups, stay alert and slow down.

Reduce bear attractants

Bears thrive best on natural foods, but they will take advantage of an easy meal. You would be surprised what items might attract bears:

  • Birdseed and peanuts (including hummingbird feeders)
  • Barbeques
  • Garbage
  • Human food, dishes, pots, pans
  • Coolers
  • Pets and pet food
  • Recycling (even containers and bottles that have been rinsed)
  • Composters
  • Gasoline
  • Toiletries and cosmetics

When camping:

  • Keep yourself and your campsite odour free. Keep sleeping bags, tents, and sleeping clothes free of food, all toiletries, food odours and beverages. Store items with strong odours in vehicle, designated food storage lockers, bear-resistant canister, or elevated food caches.
  • Store food, pet food, livestock feed and garbage away from your tent in a bear-proof place (vehicle, hard-sided trailer, food lockers, back country elevated food caches). For additional resources: AdventureSmart.ca
  • Wash and store all dishes and food utensils immediately after use. Dump strained dishwater in designated areas (front country: sewer site or washroom toilets; backcountry camping: pit toilets). Dispose of strained solids in garbage.
  • Where pit toilets are not provided, grey water and human waste must be buried at least 70m from any trail or camping area. Toilet paper must be packed out.
  • Pack out garbage – do not burn or bury it. Store your garbage the same as food.
  • Dispose of fish offal in the deep part of a lake, never along stream sides or lake shores. In the front country, use fish cleaning shacks and containers.

In the townsite of Waskesiu:

  • Store garbage/recycling, food, pet food and any items with strong odours in secure bear-proof areas.
  • Make use of available bear proof garbage and recycling bins.
  • Use birdhouses and bird baths in place of bird feeders.
  • Thoroughly clean barbeques after each use.

Handling a Bear Encounter

  1. Stay calm –do not alarm the bear with loud noises or sudden movement. Remain still and stand your ground while you assess the situation. If the bear is unaware of you, quietly leave the area, returning the way you came.
  2. If the bear is aware of you, speak to the bear in a low, calm voice. This lets the bear know you are human, and not a threat.
    1. If the bear stays where it is, retreat the way you came. Do not turn your back to the bear.
    2. If the bear advances, hold your ground, assess the bear’s behavior (predatory versus defensive behavior), and ready your bear spray. If the bear continues to advance, use your bear spray.
    3. If the bear makes contact, follow the steps for a defensive or predatory bear attack (see below).

It’s important to remember to:

  • Give the bear space to escape the encounter. If a bear does not have a way to leave an area, other than by going past you, this can make it more aggressive.
  • Make yourself large and less vulnerable – pick up small children and stay in a group.
  • Back away slowly, never run. If a bear charges, stand your ground as it may be a bluff charge. You can’t outrun a bear.
  • Keep your pack on your back. It can provide protection in the event of an attack.
  • It’s usually safest to leave the area the way you came. If you take a detour, ensure you are giving the bear space and you will not get lost.
  • Do not climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers.

Research shows that bear spray is an effective tool in deterring a bear attack. Know how to use it and keep it handy.

Handling a Bear Attack

Defensive bear attack
Understand bear behavior. Bears may show stress by ‘woofing’, growling, and snapping their jaws. Bears may bluff charge. It’s difficult, but important, to remain calm if a bear reacts to you this way. These are all signs the bear is acting defensively.

A bear will act defensively if it was surprised by you and/or is cornered, or is protecting food, a mate or young. The bear perceives you as a threat. Give the bear space. If it continues to advance, use bear spray.

Play dead if the bear makes contact with you.

Lie on your stomach with your arms over the back of your neck and legs apart to avoid being flipped over. Remain still until you are sure the bear has left the area.  

Predatory bear attack
The bear is stalking or hunting you along the trail then attacks. Or it attacks you at night. Bears that exhibit predatory behaviours are focused on you and appear calm.
If the bear is stalking you, make yourself big, band together if you are in a group. Act aggressively, throw rocks, and/or pick up sticks and wave them. If the bear continues to approach, use your bear spray. If the bear stops its approach, do not run, but try to retreat to a building or a car.

Most predatory attacks end here. However, if the bear continues to approach, and makes contact fight back with all your might, using whatever means you can to let it know you are not easy prey!  


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