BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – For many, summertime is an opportunity to explore nature via a nice long hike or a camping excursion.
In some parts of Louisiana, this can mean entering territory where bears have been known to roam.
The large creatures are known as extraordinarily intelligent, and they’ve fascinated humans for years.
But, they’re also feared.
According to the LSU AgCenter, the Louisiana Black Bear can weigh between 180 and 400 lbs. Despite their tremendous size, bears can be quick and agile, some even sprint up to 35 miles an hour.
Though the Louisiana Black Bear isn’t typically aggressive, it can be dangerous if provoked. This is especially true if a conflict involving food or its cubs should occur.
How common are bear attacks?
According to one source, North America has about 58,000 grizzly bears, and experiences approximately 11.4 attacks by brown bears annually.
But the most common bear in Louisiana is the Black Bear, and while sightings of these animals aren’t uncommon, attacks are.
One source estimates that less than one black bear attack occurs annually in the U.S. and the chances of being injured by a bear are 1 out of 2.1 million..
In addition to this, Paul Davidson, a biologist who served as Executive Director for the Black Bear Conservation Coalition told Backpacker, “Bears aren’t the evil, man-eating, dog-eating critters they’re made out to be. Cows kill more people than bears. Vending machines kill more people than bears. Fear is a powerful marketing tool.”
How to stay safe
That said, when hiking or camping it’s best to adhere to bear safety reminders.
Experts say the following actions are likely to keep bears at a distance while hiking:
-Travel in groups. Do not allow children to stray or run ahead.
-Remain on trail and never hike at night.
-Always stay alert. “Advertise” your presence by wearing bells, singing, clapping, etc. Do not allow your “advertising” to distract you from staying aware of your surroundings.
-Discard garbage in bear-proof trash containers or pack out in sealed plastic bags. Leave no trace.
-Don’t surprise a bear! Use caution when traveling in windy weather, down-wind, approaching blind curves, dense vegetation, and noisy streams, where a bear may not see, smell or hear you coming. Stop, look, and listen. Make noise before approaching these areas.
-Circling birds and/or offensive odors may indicate an animal carcass – avoid this area or use extreme caution.
-Never leave any food or backpack unattended.
These bear safety tips can help while camping:
-Choose an open site away from dense vegetation, natural food areas, forest cover, or natural pathways Avoid messy sites and areas with bear sign: torn apart logs, tracks, trampled brush, scat, claw marks on trees.
-Secure all scented items by hanging at least 10 feet off ground and 5 feet from tree.
-Restrict all cooking, eating, cleaning activities and food storage to 100 feet downwind from tents.
-Do not sleep outside of tent or with any “smellables” in your tent including empty food wrappers.
-Never leave any food scraps or garbage out.
-Wash dishes and utensils immediately – dispose of waste water downwind, 100 feet from sleeping area.
-Always use flashlight and extra caution when moving around at night.
-Store all food and odorous attractants (including garbage and cooking clothes) in sealed bags or in airtight canister.
What to do if you encounter a bear
If you find yourself in the presence of a bear, experts recommend:
-Do not run
-Pick up small children so they don’t run, scream or panic.
-Gather the group together and restrain your dog.
-Let the bear know you are human; talk in a soothing voice; lift arms overhead to look bigger.
-Slowly back away from the bear, while talking in a calm voice
-If the bear lunges, snaps its jaws, slaps the ground or brushes it with its paw, this means the animal feels threatened, and perhaps this is because you are too close. So, back up slowly without turning your back on the bear.
-The bear may also suddenly rush forward and stop as a “bluffing” tactic to intimidate you to leave; momentarily hold your ground, then keep backing away and talking softly.
-Don’t crowd the bear; leave her/him a clear escape route.
-Retreat from the area or make a very wide detour around the bear.
-If the bear continues to follow you, stand your ground and yell, clap your hands, wave your arms, or throw something toward the animal – keep doing this until the bear leaves.
-As a last resort – drop something like a hat to distract the bear but avoid tossing food or your backpack because the bear will quickly learn to confront other humans for food rewards.
For additional safety tips on what to do during bear encounters, visit The National Park Service’s website.