14 May 2011

Why it's safer to meet a black bear than drive to the campground

The recent sighting of a black bear cub near a heavily populated suburb of Toronto has renewed the debate about the need for a spring black bear hunt in Ontario.

Hunters and some “wildlife managers” have argued that the hunt is important as way of protecting public safety.

However, while there are currently about 900,000 black bears in North America, research conducted by Stephen Herrero, an expert in bear behavior and ecology at the University of Calgary, shows that between 1900 and 2009, only 63 people have been killed by bears in Canada and the U.S.

In just 2010, car accidents killed 32,788 people in the U.S. alone.

For the public, driving to the campground is more dangerous than encountering a black bear.

It also appears that the common notion that protective mother bears are the major perpetrators of attacks on humans is also false.

Herrero’s research, which is published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, found that 92 percent of the few attacks that have taken place since 1900 involved male bears.

In an article in the Toronto Star Herrero explained, “It’s because of the way they act. They blow. They snort. They swat the ground. They run at you. They make it look like they’re going to eat you alive and that’s exactly what they want (you to think)."

“They want to get their way without really mixing it up and where they might get injured," he continued. "The predatory male bear is like any predatory animal. It’s silent. It’s stalking and then makes a rush at a person.”

Sara Best | @shbest
Sara was literally born into the animal welfare movement. While growing up, her father worked with various organizations on campaigns from the Canadian seal hunt to the slaughter of dogs in the Philippines to the ivory trade in Africa. Eventually, Sara became involved in animal protection projects herself. Now she is a writer living near Toronto, a mom to two little omnivores and married to one dedicated carnivore. Visit Sara's blog.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/rasekh