Why people are attacked by bears and the lessons to be learned. This is not something I had given a great deal of thought to until a documentary film company requested my assistance with their production. They asked me if I knew anyone that had been attacked by a bear? I had heard of bear attacks but I did not know anyone personally that had been mauled, so I went to visit a local doctor to ask whether she had ever treated anybody in our village. To my amazement she gave me nine names, which is where my research started. After several weeks I managed to track down all nine survivors and all agreed to tell their story.
Circumstances that may lead to a bear charge:-
Bears enter villages for one reason, in search of food. They seek high calorific foodstuffs in autumn to lay down fat for winter hibernation. They raid gardens climbing trees in search of apples, plumbs and pears. When a villager comes between a hungry bear and food you can imagine a number of possible negative outcomes for both people and bears.
Another common situation that can lead to a dangerous encounter is when someone leaves the village on foot, in darkness looking for a cow or a horse. Domestic livestock graze during the day on communal meadows that surround the village. In the evening these animals walk home, but if they don't return the owner will look for them.
Forest workers (loggers), hikers, campers, rangers, transhumance shepherds, in fact anyone that ventures into the wilderness could potentially meet a bear, but it is how these encounters are dealt with that can influence the eventual outcome. Situations that lead to the most dangerous confrontations are startling a bear on a forest trail, approaching a bear with cubs and coming between a hungry bear and food.
Why are some bears more problematic than others?
Many people will have heard of the 'bin bears of Brasov'. These are bears that live in close proximity to the nearby city of Brasov and they associate humans with food discarded in bins on the outskirts of the city. Bears venture to these sites early morning, evening and during the night looking for food. If they are not satisfied with what they find they often become more daring venturing deeper into the city. There was one recorded mauling of a man on a park bench just a few hundred metres from the city centre. These 'problem' bears are tranquilized and moved to dense forests far away from the city, but an habituated bear does not forget old tricks to find food and will soon seek bins in nearby villages. Residents often report raiding bears with tracking collars around their necks which usually indicates the presence of a relocated bear.
All nine stories that were recorded by the film crew were hard to listen to, especially the injuries sustained. Rather than recount one harrowing story after another I thought it would be sufficient to document just one for this article.
Most bear attacks in reality can be avoided and those telling their stories acknowledged this during their interviews. Incredibly none of the interviewee's showed animosity toward bears and expressed a healthy respect for the animals that attacked them. I am an advocate of bear conservation and want to portray them in a good light, but it should always be remembered that they can be extremely dangerous in specific circumstances.
This elderly gentleman was badly mauled by a brown bear more than ten years ago when looking for his horse. It was autumn after sunset and he left his house alone and without a torch. He said he was unaware of a bear on the road until it grabbed him from behind by his head and dragged him off into the bushes. He said the bear was huge and powerful and during the attack he remembered thinking of his father's advice as a child telling him to 'play dead' if attacked. This is exactly what he did, but the attack continued and the pain became so unbearable as it tore into his body. When he realised the attack would not stop he pleaded with the bear not to kill him. After he went into shock and lost consciousness the bear quickly lost interest and walked away, then looked around for a moment before returning. The old man said the bear wanted to make sure he was dead and with one eye slightly open he could see the bears face loom in close to his own. Only centimetres away the bear started sniffing his face checking for signs of life. He remained still and held his breath not wanting to trigger another attack. The bear satisfied that he was dead stepped over him, but unfortunately one of its hind paws stood directly on his head crushing his face and sending him into unconsciousness again.
When he regained consciousness he managed to crawl back to the village where he found help and was rushed to a specialist centre for extensive facial reconstructive surgery. Along with several broken bones and multiple flesh wounds his skull had been crushed close to his brain and he had literally been scalped. His recount of that terrible event left him in tears and the film crew stunned into silence. We wanted to stop filming witnessing his distress but he wanted to continue. He said if his experience could prevent just one attack he wanted to tell his story.
In this following article I discuss useful Safety Tips - Bears. Please remember that as long as you observe sensible safety precautions when out in the wilderness you will have a safe and pleasurable experience.