January 27, 2023

Can Black Bears Be Aggressive?

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Note* – I was sent an email yesterday from a women who asked me if bears can really be aggressive. It came on the heals of an event in which a bear came out of the woods, running toward two people and making “strange noises.” I took the time to reply and this morning, after thinking about it, I decided it was worth sharing what I wrote.

I think the key words here are CAN THEY BE aggressive? Yes they can under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, for the animal lovers they refuse to accept that premise…I suppose fearing it somehow will jeopardize the existence of bears.

Generally speaking all animals, yes, even your little doggies, have the potential to attack, even if it’s a quick snap. Why? The obvious answer is because they are animals. I see it all the time where people insist on putting their face into the space and face of dogs and cats or any animal for that matter. Perhaps the dumbest thing to do.

Back to bears. Hard to believe there are 30,000 plus bears in Maine because we seldom see them and won’t under ideal circumstances. We all choose to apply human traits to animals, which is nonsense, but sometimes helpful to get people to understand circumstances can change. Just like with humans, when circumstances FORCE you to move outside your comfort zone, you do what you need to do. Animals are no different except they react and don’t reason.

Bears prefer their natural surroundings and that includes natural food. They are opportunistic [hunters] and yes, especially during this time of year, are gorging themselves in preparation for hibernation. If natural food is in short supply, we see more bears and hear of more human/bear conflicts.

Then we need to better understand the REAL behavior of bears not the Romance biologists’ perspective of things. Even this event that you describe, may not have ended in a bad way….or it may have been devastating. Bears, as with other large predators, i.e. coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, etc. go through a progression, actually, before they will attack a human. That is USUALLY. Those bear attacks on hikers etc. do not qualify here as probably the animals felt threatened and reacted.

However, bears and others actually have to learn how to attack a human. They don’t look at you or me and say, hmmm, human = food. They see us as another moving object. They don’t even know if we are good to eat or if they are capable of killing us. So, they take themselves through a process of “testing” to find out what that moving creature (human) will do.

The most obvious “testing” predators do, not just with humans but other prey species, is called “prey testing”. In this regard they do things to see how the prey will react. If a bear approaches a human and the human shoots, yells, throws rocks etc., the bear might get the message this isn’t going to be easy. On the other hand, if the human doesn’t offer any kind of resistance, the bear moves on to the next test to see what you will do.

Perhaps this bear that came running out of the woods was merely testing these humans to see how they would react to a charge. We read about it quite often. That is why we are told not to run when a bear does this. That’s what they want you to do. However, who has the [guts] to stand up to a charging bear? Perhaps this charging bear had already done some testing before this. Predators will quietly and secretly observe potential prey before being bold enough to come out and begin fighting like a man. LOL

Under most conditions bears are harmless. What bothers me is that because of that repeated statement, people refuse to accept any other description of bears. People really need to understand that there is ALWAYS potential danger with any animal – wild or domestic. If we learn about their behaviors and what they mean, we can reduce our risk of what might happen in dealing with that occasional bear encounter or coyote encounter or fox or marten, etc.

People love to focus on the rarity of such events. Rarity involves the perspective of the person making the claim. What is rare? You pick up the newspaper and read about a bear incident. I can almost with certainty guarantee that the articles will state that bear attacks are rare and yet seldom offer any education about them.

So again, I ask. What is rare? Is it rare because you don’t personally know anybody that got attacked by a bear? Is it rare because there are 6 billion people in the world and only 5,000 have been killed by bears? How rare do you think it would be for this family had the bear killed one or both of these people? And does it matter about rarity? Whether it’s rare or not a human might have been killed. Was it preventable? More than likely and part of that prevention is to be able to keep bear hunting going and just as importantly to allow the fish and game people to be able to use tools available to help keep us all safe.

My work takes me all over the world and perhaps contrary to what you are reading in papers in Maine right now, in places were bears aren’t regularly and effectively hunted, bear populations are increasing and so are the numbers of bear/human encounters. Don’t believe those lies.

If Maine passes this referendum and there then becomes so many bears that attacks like what you describe become more common, somebody is going to have to KILL bears to stop them. Why not let people who could use the bear do it?

I have described above that bears, when abundant natural food is available, we seldom see. What happens when Maine’s bear population grows from 30,000 bear to 40,000 and then one year, there is little natural food? 40,000 bears all competing for little food. What do you think will happen?

Thanks for sharing the story. I’m certainly glad nobody was injured. Many stories like this are heard and most end with little or no harm done. It’s the real tragic ones like the Rutgers student in New Jersey that really get you to thinking. Rare or not, it didn’t need to happen.