Over the course of just 4 days, the U.S. has seen a sudden wave of bear attacks. 7 victims have so far been reported as injured in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, and Wyoming, with varying degrees of severity in each case.
In an interview with ABC News, Michigan victim Abby Wetherell remembers her frightening encounter with a 700-pound black bear while she was jogging on a trail in Cadillac. Once she fully realized the bear’s presence, Wetherell recounts, she tried to start running in the opposite direction. “All of a sudden,” she says, “the bear stopped me and put me down on ground, scraping me and clawing me.” She was attacked twice, but finally determined that she should play dead before the bear went any further. It left soon after, allowing her to finally escape back to her house.
On Sunday, Wetherell emerged from a Traverse City hospital with 100 stitches throughout her left thigh and back. For the time being, she still has some pain and is walking with crutches.
While it’s true that the recent attacks have occurred right around the time that hibernation season is set to begin, another factor is that families are all too eager to get one last camping trip in before school starts. “The reason why we’re having bear attacks now,” says Columbus Zoo CEO Tom Stalf, “is because we have vacationers out in the areas where bears live.” Vacationing and the moving about of people in general simply mean that “we’re going to cross paths with different types of animals.”
While bears are not true “hibernators,” they do spend these months of the year scavenging for food so they’re able to live off stored body fat during colder months, when food isn’t as readily available.
Six other attacks have occurred elsewhere. In Alaska, one man was separated from his hunting party for 36 hours, sustaining massive blood loss after a bear mauling. A Colorado camper was bitten by a bear while she slept, with the bear running away shortly thereafter because of the woman’s cries for help. In Wyoming, the victims were a pair of hikers going through Yellowstone National Park, who encountered a bear that ended up charging them. Two researchers in Idaho were also charged, with one being bitten and the other warding the bear off with spray.
While bear attacks are still quite rare in North America, fatalities from such attacks are even rarer. According to the Journal of Wildlife Management, little over 63 people have died from brown or black bear attacks since 1900. The same study also shows a connection between human population growth and a rising frequency in attacks.
The number of attacks has certainly increased as of late, but there’s still nothing to indicate that anything unusual is going on with the bears. Each of the cases seems to be largely incidental. Harry Reynolds of the International Association for Bear Research and Management affirms the same, stating that there is “not any larger outside issue weighing into the attacks.”
It’s always wise for anyone living in a heavily bear-populated area to not leave food or trash outside on their property. Time and again, animal control has had to remind people that “A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear.” When hiking and camping, you should make sure not to leave food scraps around campsites or in backpacks. According to SectionHiker.com, bears have a sense of smell that is “7 times better than a blood hound’s” and “2,100 times better than a human.” If you leave anything out, rest assured, they’ll smell it.
Written By: Chris Bacavis