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Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Fatal Bear Attack

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Photo of a brown bear (grizzly) in the wild.By now, most everyone is familiar with the tragic circumstances in which a visitor on a trail in Yellowstone National Park on July 6, 2011 surprised a brown (grizzly) bear with cubs, provoking a fatal attack. Fortunately, events like this are rare. At the same time, they are also predictable by virtue of our understanding of bear behavior, particularly in the wildland-urban interface. It was not the victim’s fault, and our hearts go out to his family and friends. For the benefit of others who will backpack and explore in bear country here is an excerpt about avoidance of hazardous animals, in particular bears, adapted from the book Medicine for the Outdoors:

Avoidance of Hazardous Animals

Most wild animal encounters can be avoided with caution and a little common sense. Follow these rules:

1. Do not surprise or otherwise provoke animals. Unless they are apex predators, starving, senile, or ill, most animals will not attack humans without provocation. Do not corner or provoke a carnivore. Do not tease animals. Do not approach an animal when it is with young. If you are a photographer approaching a wild animal that may become provoked and charge, do not come any closer to the animal than 100 yards distance. Some experts say that you should attempt to stay even further away from bears.

2. Do not disturb a feeding animal. Do not explore into its feeding territory, approach during rut, or disrupt mating patterns.

3. Do not separate fighting animals using your bare hands. If possible, drive animals apart using a long stick or club.

4. In bear country, make your presence known by calling out, clapping your hands, or otherwise making noise, particularly when approaching streams and blind spots on the trail. If you are a jogger on a trail, you may approach a bear more rapidly than it has time to flee, so it is best to stay off trails frequented by bears if you are traveling at a brisk pace.

5. Hang all food off the ground in trees away from the campsite. Never keep food or captured game inside a tent. Use proper food storage to keep food away from bears. Cook at a site away from the sleeping area. Do not sleep in clothes worn while cooking or eating.

6. Make noise when hiking, particularly on narrow paths or through tall grass. Walk slowly. If you confront a brown (grizzly) bear, avoid eye contact and try to slowly back away. If you confront a black bear, shout, yell, throw rocks or sticks, or do whatever you can to frighten off the animal.

7. If attacked by a bear, do not try to outrun it; you can’t. If you are carrying pepper spray (at least one percent capsaicin or capsaicinoids) in a canister intended for use against a bear (“bear pepper spray” that meets EPA standards; a spray distance of 25 feet under optimum conditions, minimum spray duration of six seconds, minimum net content of 7.9 ounces or 2.25 grams), use it if you have time. Personal defensive spray, such as Mace, will likely not work because the canister shoots a relatively thin stream and the substance is not sufficiently potent. Carry the spray where it is obvious and can be immediately deployed. It should be on a holster on your waist or chest, not in the bottom of your pack. Show your companions its location.

8. If you are attacked by a bear and not carrying bear pepper spray, cover your head and the back of your neck with your arms and curl into a fetal position or lay flat on the ground, face down, to protect your abdomen. If you are wearing a backpack, keep it on for additional protection. Use your elbows to cover your face if a bear turns you over. After a bear attack, remain on the ground until you are certain that the bear has left the area. More than one victim has successfully protected himself during the initial attack, only to arise too soon (before the bear has lost interest and left the area) and be mauled during the second attack.

5. Never leave a small child alone with an animal, regardless of the animal’s demeanor.

6. Do not pet or feed animals.

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Tags: Backpacking , Bites & Stings

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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