Biology Index
By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics

The Adventures of my Friends and Family with Bears. Close Encounters of the Fury Kind

Bears and Mountain Lions are large predators fully capable of killing and eating an adult human being, and on very, very rare occasions they do. A wolf pack should be able to do this too, but in America this seems to never happen. Coyotes live with us in our cities and could easily kill our small children. They eat our dogs and cats in great numbers but our children remain untouched.

People will say that these predators avoid humans, and usually they do, but the bears in particular have been getting surprisingly cozy with my friends and relatives. Here are their stories.

Toothpaste Protects More Than Teeth

One of my cousins was camping at Yosemite. A black bear entered the camp and brushed up against my cousin while she was cooking. A very close encounter of the furry kind. The bear ignored the cooking, a bit insulting, went to the supplies and took off with some toothpaste.

Bears are understandably concerned with dental hygiene, they do not have dental insurance, and it would take a lot of berries and insect grubs to convince a dentist to put their hands in a bears mouth. So I suspect Smokey the Bear's new motto is, "Only you can prevent tooth decay."

So do not forget to bring toothpaste when camping, dental hygiene is important, and besides bears prefer toothpaste to human flesh. You do what to give them what they like best don't you.

Don't Growl Over Spilled Coffee

A friend of a friend also had a brush with a bear recently. I have talked to this lady several times at parties and gatherings at my friend's house. So this lady was camping and more specifically eating breakfast with her family when a bear joined them at the table once again brushing up against her. She were so startled that she spilled coffee on the bear. But the bear was cool about it, there was no lawsuit and it did not even growl. It simply began to help itself to their breakfast.

Procrastination Can Be Prudent

Another friend was recently camping in a park where bear visits at human camp sites are frequent. A bear was dinning at one of the camps garbage cans. My friend was washing dishes, a real hard worker. When finished she tried to walk behind the bear, about three or four feet away. The bear turned and growled. I suppose it was saying, "Get your own garbage can." My friend decided that a little procrastination might not be such a bad thing under the circumstances and backed off.

More Close Encounters

Still another friend had several adventures with bears. While sleeping in a tent my friend left his water bottle just outside the tent, but within arms length. When he woke up he found the top chewed off, presumably by a bear. Better the top of a water bottle than your head.

In another instance the bear found my friend in the water, maybe thirty feet from the bear. The bear tried to get at his food ,which had been secured in a bear box, but failing that, left. My friend figured that the bear would return, which made it difficult to sleep. At night he heard an animal walking closer and closer. He switched on his flash light only to find himself facing a deer about three feet away.

I myself have encountered deer several times, mostly in densely populated Berkeley, California. The deer seem to like the city, no hunters, bears, or mountain lions. It is understandable. The bears and mountain lions usually do not eat us, but the deer are not so privileged. Check your human privilege.

On still another occasion my friend was saving money camping in Alaska. This was close to a town, and as he found out close to the dump. He discovered that the grizzly bears were commonly walking close to his camp site on their way to the dump.

More Alaska, More Grizzlies

At a recent church coffee hour a parishioner had his own grizzly tale. He and one of his co-workers came upon a grizzly fishing in stream. The bear charged them. They were armed. They had been trained to follow a couple of rules. When your partner fires you fire too. Second pick a spot between you and the bear, when the bear passes that spot fire. The bear stopped its charge and ran off. One man asked the other what their spot was, as it turned out both men had chosen the same spot.

Still another friend at our church coffee hour had an Alaska grizzly story. She was visiting her in laws. When she was walking out from the main house to one separate buildings in their compound she forgot to make noise and when she turned a corner saw a three year old grizzly bear that she estimated was about 700 pounds, about half full size. She screamed, the bear ran.

British Columbia also has Bears

A teacher I knew at work went to spend some time with a boy friend in British Columbia. He was homesteading a farm. They were out by a stream when a Grizzly stuck its head over a pile of logs. The teacher was about to run, not a good idea, but the boyfriend calmly said get out of here you dirty old bear.

Don't Run

You are always told not to run. Supposedly this will excite their hunting instinct. I suspect that hunger incites their hunting instinct. I suspect that running is bad because animals that are poisonous, venomous, or otherwise dangerous to eat don't run. Running is a signal that you are safe to eat.

As your fellow humans will usually kill the bear if it kills you, you are not safe to eat. So for your sake and the bear's do not run. It sends the wrong message.

We are also advised to make noise, and wear bright colors. We are advised to do this so we do not surprise the animals. I support the experts and their advice, but I believe that the real reason why it is good advice is that these are signals that tell the bears and other predators they we are not safe to eat. Rattlesnakes make noise, poison dart frogs have bright colors. If an animal attracts attention to itself and does not run, it is usually dangerous to eat. This is the message we want to send the bears and other predators.

Now What Did Your Mother Teach You

But humans make mistakes and yet we are very rarely eaten. Perhaps the secret is that these mammal predators were raised by their mothers. They simply eat what their mothers taught them was safe to eat, or simply what she brought back to feed them. Mother never brought back a human, if she had we would of killed her and the cubs would have died too. So when you face a large mammalian predator remind them that mother did not teach them that you were safe to eat.

Careful What You Eat

Learning what is safe to eat is very important for bears, mountain lions, and more generally large mammal predators. They have to survive a long time to reproduce, which means they have to safely eat many meals. Yet their environment is full of animals that are small enough to eat but dangerous to eat. For example almost all amphibians: frogs, toads, and salamanders, are poisonous if you eat them. Snakes, spiders, and various insects inject venom, porcupine quills can work there way into a predator and kill them, the smell of a skunk is not just unpleasant it may also prevent a predator from hunting effectively. So the environment is full of things that the predator must avoid eating.

This is less true for polar bears and barren ground grizzles. Barren ground grizzles are grizzly bears that live north of the tree line on land that is barren of trees. There are no amphibians, and almost everything that moves is safe to eat with the exceptions of humans and in some areas porcupines. Porcupines which have a range that stretches to the North Coast of Alaska. It has been frequently noted that polar bears and barren ground grizzles are the most aggressive and dangerous of mammal predators. I suspect this is because they live in an environment where almost everything that moves other than a human is safe to eat.

But most of the mammalian predators we meet up with have to be conservative about what they eat, perhaps following a rule of only eating what their mothers taught them was safe.

Don't Do Anything Dangerous

One of my co-workers told me that a bear had charged him. He escaped by jumping over a cliff into water at the bottom of the cliff. He did not know how deep the water was. If it was shallow he would have died. I heard the story so you know the water was was deep.

Still my co-worker took a huge risk that was probably unnecessary. There are about a million bears and mountain lions in the United States and Canada and about 360 million people. The bears and mountain lions have hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of opportunities to eat a person, yet only three or four are eaten each year. I suspect that the mammalian predators avoid a hundred million, perhaps a billion opportunities to eat a person for every time that one actually does prey on a human. Bears frequently charge, but rarely kill and eat.

It is also impressive that tens of thousands of coyotes live in our cities eating perhaps millions of our cats and dogs yet it has been decades since one killed a small child. In those decades they must have had a huge number of opportunities, but these animals are fairly good at knowing the limits of what they can get away with.

So do not do anything dreadfully dangerous to escape a predator that probably will not press its attack.

Get Outside and Exercise

I had another friend who was living in a cabin out in the woods. One time a bear trying to escape a human hunter ran past her. This frightened her, and she was discouraged from going out.

About one out of every hundred million people in the United States and Canada are eaten by mammalian predators in the average year. Many more die early than they should of heart attacks. Exercise is important to extending your life. So do not avoid it just because you are worried that there is a bear in the woods.


I have another web page that covers much the same material but is framed as guide to protecting yourself against predatory dinosaurs.

There is also a page that treats the topic in a more theoretical way. It attempts to answer the question of why predators don't eat us.

Finally there is biology index page with lots of other web pages with my speculation, just so stories, and hypothesis on many topics in biology. I have presented these topics to biology professors many times and usually the ideas are well received. They do not find much wrong and sometimes even say they should be submitted for academic publication.

Biology Index