Black bear attacks-a reality check

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In two days, two people last week were killed by separate black bear attacks in Alaska.

Erin Johnson, 27, was killed while doing contract work with Ellen Trainor, 38,  who was also attacked but survived with relatively minor injuries.

This comes a day after 16-year-old Patrick Cooper was killed while running a race in the wilds of his home state.

Bear attacks are rare.

Black bear attacks are even rarer.

Only six attacks attributed to black bears had been documented previously in Alaska in more than 100 years.

black bear bushes
Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Currently there are around 100,000 black bears inhabiting Alaska alongside 700,000 people. That means there is one bear for every seven people which is a pretty high ratio even factoring in the amount of habitat in the state.

This story has wildlife apologists throughout the blogosphere and broadcast media making statements like “most fatal black bear attacks are examples of the animals defending their territory” and “the majority of attacks are by mothers defending their cubs”.

Not true. Not even close.

A study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management documents 63 people killed in 59 incidents by non-captive black bears between 1900-2009.

Here is the standout quote from the study.

We judged that the bear involved acted as a predator in 88% (49 of 56) of fatal incidents. Adult or subadult male bears were involved in 92% 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.

To read the conclusion of this story click here.

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