‘Do not play dead!’; What should I do if I’m attacked by a black bear?

Local News

DENVER (KDVR) — Bear attacks are extremely rare in Colorado. Deadly bear attacks are even more rare. There have only been four documented deadly bear attacks in our state, including one that happened on Friday near Durango.

If you are attacked by a bear, one of the most important reminders from the National Park Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is to not play dead.

“When you come across a black bear in Colorado, do not ever run from it and do not climb a tree,” said Jason Clay with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “You should remain calm and stand still, you want to talk to that bear and make yourself look bigger, open your jacket or wave your hands. Talk to it firmly and calmly, not in a panic. Back away slowly and the bear should identify you and go away on its own.”

The National Park Service says you should also try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to fight back using any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear’s face and muzzle.

CPW said there are 8,000 to 12,000 black bears in Colorado. Whether you are hiking, taking your dog for a walk, or spending time outside in the Foothills and mountains, there are ways you can prepare in case you come across a bear.

Here are a list of tips from CPW:

CPW said this is what you should do if you see a bear on a trail:

  • Stand still, stay calm and let the bear identify you and leave. Talk in a normal tone of voice. Be sure the bear has an escape route.
  • Never run or climb a tree. 
  • If you see cubs, their mother is usually close by. Leave the area immediately

CPW said this is what you should do if a bear does not leave:  

  • A bear standing up is just trying to identify what you are by getting a better look and smell. 
  • Wave your arms slowly overhead and talk calmly. If the bear huffs, pops it jaws or stomps a paw, it wants you to give it space. 
  • Step off the trail to the downhill side, keep looking at the bear and slowly back away until the bear is out of sight.

CPW said this is what you should do if a bear approaches:

  • A bear knowingly approaching a person could be a food-conditioned bear looking for a handout or, very rarely, an aggressive bear. Don’t feed this type of bear: instead, stand your ground. Yell or throw small rocks in the direction of the bear.
  • Get out your bear spray and use it when the bear is about 40 feet away. 
  • If you’re attacked, don’t play dead. Fight back with anything available. People have successfully defended them­selves with pen knives, trekking poles, and even bare hands.
  • Be alert at all times, and leave your headphones at home. Be extra cautious at dawn and dusk, when the wind is in your face, visibility is limited or you’re walking by a noisy stream. A firm clap or quick shout warns bears that humans are in the area.

CPW shared these tips on how to protect yourself while you’re hiking:

  • Keep dogs leashed; explor­ing canines can surprise a bear. Your dog could be injured, or come run­ning back to you with an irritated bear on its heels. 
  • In late summer and fall, bears need to forage up to 20 hours a day, so avoid trails that go through berry patches, oak brush and other natural food sources. 
  • Keep chil­dren between adults, and teach them what to do if they see a bear. Don’t let them run ahead or fall behind. 
  • Double bag food, and never leave any trash or leftovers behind. Finding treats teaches bears to as­sociate trails with food. 
  • Never approach bears or offer food. If you’re lucky enough to see a bear, watch from a safe distance and enjoy this very special experience. If your presence causes the bear to look up or change its behavior in any way, you are too close.

“We have so many more people in the outdoors, people that aren’t as experienced that are getting out,” said Clay. “Our public parks have been overrun with people and that has spilled out into more of the wildland, people looking for places to go.”

CPW tells FOX31 these tips are important to know before heading out this summer, and while there’s only been four wild bear attacks in Colorado since 1990, it’s more likely humans will come across a bear with more people sharing the same outdoor spaces with the wild animals.

It’s important bears stay afraid of humans. Bears can start to feel more comfortable approaching humans if they know we provide a reliable food source for them outside our homes or at our camping spots.

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