Bear Behavior: Why & When Bears Attack

Similar to humans, bears seem to have their own moods. They can be shy, curious, pushy and aggressive and demonstrate other personality traits, which can be related to humans. Every encounter with a bear will be different. Each bear you encounter may behave differently than any other bear you have encountered in the past or may encounter in the future. The majority of those who have been attacked by a grizzly bear have no idea what prompted the attack.

There are usually just a few reasons that sparked an attack, such as the bear was surprised by the sudden appearance of a human and felt threatened or a sow protecting its cubs. The female believing a threat exists to the cubs will be overly aggressive to protect them, however most bears would rather search for a means of escaping a confrontation with a human and if they see a way out, typically will take it.

Bears are basically solitary animals and, much like humans, claim a certain amount of personal space that varies from bear to bear. When they feel that someone or something has violated that personal space, they will go on the offensive to eliminate the violation, often in the form of a bluff charge. They may make bodily contact or it may trigger an outright attack. Grizzly bears will usually ignore a human unless it believes its personal space is in danger. Reports show that large groups of people have been ignored by grizzly bears until one of the group enters the bear’s space, at which time they have been attacked.

Most bears, if given enough notice, will flee an area if they feel the presence of someone or something early enough to escape unnoticed. However if they are surprised and believe a human to be a threat, they will generally react with an aggressive and immediate response. Running from a bear usually results in a chase and with bears able to go from dead stop to speeds up to 35 miles per hour, it is doubtful that a human will be able to outrun a bear.

When a bear is confronted by another bear, the one that stands its ground is rarely attacked. Bears that appear to be submissive have a low incident rate of being attacked, as well. Evidence indicates that grizzly bears have no desire to kill humans during an accidental, unexpected encounter rather they are just trying to remove the perceived threat. Consider the amount of damage a grizzly is capable of inflicting on a human and the wounds that result from an attack. They are usually superficial bites, cuts and lacerations. Most agree the inflicted wounds are more the result of the human reaction to resist than the actual attack.

On the other hand, a bear entering your tent is an entirely different circumstance as it shows a predatory behavior, with young grizzly bears, especially presenting a higher threat level. The more dominant bears will force the smaller, younger bears into less fruitful habitat and once they have left their mother, become lower on the chain. These young bears do a lot of exploring in order to survive and will begin using camping areas as their foraging grounds, becoming a real danger to the people camping within them. Young grizzly bears have been known, although rarely, to sight in on a human as prey.

Black bears appear to rely more on being a bully, charging and bluffing rather than a full-fledged attack and mauling, but there are two main circumstances in which a black bear goes through with an aggressive attack. If a female bear is protecting its cubs, or a bear experiencing its first human encounter sees them as prey or a food source.

Body Language Offers Clues Of Wild Animal Intent
Like humans, the body language of a bear will give hints as to the intentions of a bear. While standing on their hind legs sniffing the air may be scary to most humans, this is simply the bear trying to get a better look and smell by sniffing the area. By itself, this is not typically an aggressive move, but that the bear is trying to get a better look and smell of what is going on in front of it. However, this does not mean the bear cannot drop to all fours and charge.

A bear that stands on all fours and swings it head from side-to-side, and may turn sideways to a human, is basically saying it does not really want to charge and is trying to find a way to avoid that action. If it is staring into your eyes with ears pinned back, it is a sign that you are too close and feels threatened. They also may make sounds that are similar to a barking noise or a moaning sound.

If bear makes a “popping” sound with its jaws, it means the bear is very upset and is going to charge. Often these charges are a test of the human’s reaction and the bluff charge will stop just short of an attack where it will stop short, turn and run past the human. It may bluff charge several times before leaving and if a bear makes physical contact it means it is trying to remove what it believes to be a threat. The bear will use whatever force it believes necessary to eliminate the threat. If you make noise and run, the bear will chase you and at 35 miles per hour, will most likely catch you.