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Bear data confirms what's long been known

Mother bears aren't the issue - male black bears responsible for stalking and predatory behaviour, study says



If you go out in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise. A teddy bear picnic it is not, as local bear populations rise from a winter of hibernation to a poor berry yield. Though fewer berries doesn't mean a higher chance of attack, it does indicate bears will be roaming closer to roads and garbage sources in search of food.

New data released in a report of the Journal of Wildlife Management this month confirms previous information that 88 per cent of fatal bear attacks in Canada and the U.S. are the result of predatory behaviour of a male black bear.

"Of fatal attacks, 91 per cent (49 of 54) occurred on parties of one or two persons. In 38 per cent (15 of 40) of incidents, peoples' food or garbage probably influenced the bear being in the attack location," reads an excerpt from the study. "We judged that the bear involved acted as a predator in 88 per cent (49 of 56) of fatal incidents. Adult (n = 23) or subadult (n = 10) male bears were involved in 92 per cent (33 of 36) of fatal predatory incidents, reflecting biological and behavioral differences between male and female bears. That most fatal black bear attacks were predatory and were carried out by one bear shows that females with young are not the most dangerous black bears."

While it might seem that one of the most prominent rules of thumb in bear theory - that a mother with cubs presents the most dangerous to humans - has been debunked, conservation officers and bear experts maintain that the rule still applies.

"It's never respectful to approach a mother bear or come between her and her cubs in any way," said Sylvia Dolson, executive director of the Get Bear Smart Society in Whistler. "This information has been known for a long, long time...they've updated their stats and it's good to know that they are still finding the same evidence. We've been educating on that basis for years, so all of our education is in line with what came out of that report."

The study, led by Stephen Herrero - a noted bear expert and professor of environmental science and biology at the University of Calgary - reinforced well-established links between expanding human populations and bear attacks. The report was based on information collected between 1900 and 2009 and showed no correlation between heavy bear populations and attacks. There were 3.5 times as many fatal attacks in Canada and Alaska but only 1.75 times as many black bears and much less human contact for black bears in these regions. There was, however, a positive linear relationship between the number of fatal black bear attacks per decade and human population size in the United States and Canada per decade.

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