Rovdjurscentret De 5 Stora

The bear and humans

THE BEAR IS A VERY INTELLIGENT ANIMAL and is often considered similar to the humans in temperament and state of mind. The strength of the bear has, through history aroused jealousy, respect and fear from mankind. Most of the Nordic populations have had a strong spiritual relation towards the bear, and the bear has, in most parts of their territory been by far the most important animal of cult. The bear was worshipped and looked upon with respect and fear induced reverence. Many populations have had the bear as a totem- and symbol animal, e.g. Russia, Romania and Finland, also Nordic folk tribes as the Laps, Nenetser, Tjukter, Dolganer and several Eskimo and Indian tribes. The hunt for bears required extensive ritual preparation and still more rituals after the work. Many times, the bears bones were washed after having taken off the meat, and these bones were then buried with much worshipping, in order that the spirit of the bear should not reappear and injure the hunter that has killed it. In many areas places of cult were found, where the heads of bears were collected for ceremonial use.

PROBLEM BEARS, THAT IS BEARS that have lost their natural shyness for humans, are often a creation by the humans and a consequence of their behavior around their houses and farms. Much of the “problems” are caused by the handling of butchering waste, as well as the handling of refusals and of animals that died of natural causes around the houses and farms. The remains of bait used for hunting on short distance from the farms could contribute to the problems. Sometimes misdirected thoughtfulness contributes to the decisions to shoot a bear. Lately, people have deposed dog-food and butchering rests in the terrain around their summerhouses and farms in order to stimulate the bears to move around close-by. The bears than have frightened neighbours, looked into waste bins and finally got shot and killed. 

Is the bear dangerous?

There is a well known Swedish song for children about the bear and it comprises several generations collection of wisdom about the bear. Not only should we be careful. We should also pay adequate respect to the “big one” and allocate him the necessary “distance of security”. Because, the bear is both “cunning and strong”, like the bear remarks in Djungelboken every Christmas Eve (Baloo, by the way, represents an Asiatic Lapp bear). The bear, utterly seldom, goes near a human being. Most of the meetings between a bear and a human , never come about really and are not noticed by the human since the bear goes out of the way long time before we can see him. Still, the bear can be the most dangerous, or perhaps the least not dangerous of the big predators (Human beings then excluded). Mostly, the bear is a peaceful animal. Real attacks from bears at different places in Europe have been documented by one of the following 5 situations:

  • When a dog has irritated a bear and then returned to its owner.
  • When someone has come too close to the bears location of hibernation.
  • When a bear has been wounded or threatened.
  • When a person has come too close to a female with cubs.
  • When someone has come too close to a bears prey.

The Rovdjurscenter has collected evidence from all of the occasions where a bear has attacked a human being during the period 1995 – 2007. In total, 18 persons were attacked, of which 16 were wounded and 2 were killed (2004 and 2007). The evidence comes from interviews with the wounded victims.

PARTICULARLY THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE seems to have a decisive influence on the “rate of dangerousness” of the bear. Apart from the above cited special situations, the bear can rather be considered not to be dangerous for human beings in all age groups. Moreover, in similar situations, the bear signals loud and clearly with “demonstrations of power” that he does not want the human to come closer but rather that the human being backs away.

Hunters have sometimes, when sneaking through the forest, by mistake, come too close to a bear with a prey or a female with young cubs. In reflex, the bear then often starts a pretense of an attack. This is merely a demonstration of power.

People that talk, shout, whistle or make noises with their berry buckets seldom are lucky to see a wild bear in the forests.

It is believed, that, during the period 1750 – 1962 in total 27 persons have been killed by bears in the Nordic countries. In most cases, the bear had been shot and wounded prior to the incident. Also, many of these people did not die by the wounds inflicted by the bear, but rather by the infections that arose in the wounds. Today, most of them could have survived after treatment with antibiotics. In autumn 2004, a hunter was killed, outside of Jokkmokk in the province of Norrbotten by a female bear. The hunter had wounded the bear, most probably after that his dog had chased the bear out of its place of hibernation. Prior to that, since 1902 when a hunter in Jämtland was attacked by a shot wounded bear, no killings by bears were reported. In Finland, in summer 1998 a jogging person was killed by a bear with a one year old cub,  that he had surprised in the forest.

In many zoo’s people can go in into the corrals, where lynxes, wolverines and wolves live. This is even possible in corrals with large wolf families. But in corrals with bears even the keepers hesitate to go in…..

Trying to run away from a bear is not a good idea. The bear can run very fast on short distances.

The fastest human sprinter in the world would finish 30 meters short of a bear, when running a 100 m distance.

Finally, let’s put the danger coming from meeting a bear in relation to other situations in the daily life in the forests. The number of people that, during hunts, get killed by accidental shots has amounted to an average of 2 – 3 persons a year during the recent 10 years. Moreover, it is far more dangerous to drive a car to the area of hunting, than the hunting itself. Roe deer cause one to two accidents a day in the small province of Sörmland only. Per annum, the number of people killed in traffic accidents in Sweden, amounts to approx. 540.

WHEN MAKING YOURSELF NOTICEABLE in due time, by talking, shouting, singing or making some kind of mechanical noise, you will most probably never see a bear in the forests. And neither will you see any other big predator.

Should you meet a bear in the forest

  1. Stay put and enjoy a moment the favour, reserved to very few people, of having such luck to see a wild bear free going around.
  2. Then, let him notice that you are there. Talk to him as you would do to a bigger dog, but in a normal and friendly tone of voice, cough a little and clear your throat. If the bear does not seem to hear you, clap your hands.
  3. Then return backwards quietly, without turning around. Don’t go closer!
  4. Don’t run. The bear can run much faster! Don’t climb a tree. The bear can climb too and much faster and effective. Should the bear keep following you, drop some of your possessions on the ground, one after another. E.g. clothing. Then, the bear often stops to smell and examine.
  5. Should you be so unlucky as to get attacked, experts mean that you should lie down in the foetal position, with your face towards the ground and protect your neck with your hands, having your arms sideways along your head.

A WEAPON DOES NOT PROVIDE SAFETY, rather a mistaken feeling of security. History proves, that in a stressful situation, where a bear starts to attack it becomes utterly difficult to place a deadly direct hit! Better to start firing a shot in the air above the bear; it may well have a frightening effect and make the bear to leave. Wounded bears are extremely dangerous!

The tragic case that occurred in 1904 in Jokkmokk is a clear example of that.

CUBS ARE VERY SELDOM ABANDONED BY THEIR MOTHER. Should you see cubs, or a newly killed prey, leave the place in a calm and quiet pace and return the way you came from.

Try to understand the bear’s behaviour. When a bear rises upon its hind legs it may be that he wants to  check  upon what he smells. He may not have seen or heard you. When arising upon the hind legs there is no question of threatening behaviour. On the contrary, when the bear perceives that he has a human being in front of him, he usually turns around and starts galloping away. But a bear that snorts or barks, without leaving the site can be an irritated bear; she may have cubs or a newly conquered prey close by. The bear then wants the human to leave the place, and it may well be a good idea to follow that advice.

Many people in the USA and Canada carry “bear spray” with them, when walking in the forests. It contains a type of (strong) tear gas and has been said to be very effective. In Sweden however, the possession of such a spray is forbidden.