1. Archive

I've learned more about animals and their behaviors by being a journalist in Florida than I ever did in school

30 things I underlined in Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, by Stephen Herrero, which I read for the story I'm working on about the growing populations (bear and human) in the areas around Orlando:

1. Few biologists can study bears without seeing in them traits that are distinctly human.

2. ... over 90 percent of the recorded black bear-inflicted injuries were minor.

3. Most black bear-inflicted injuries occurred in national parks, typically happening in campgrounds where black bears were seeking food or along roadsides where "panhandler" black bears begged for food. At least 90 percent of the injuries inflicted by black bears during the period between 1960 and 1980 I attribute to bears habituated to people and conditioned to eat human foods.

4. The black bear's intense motivation to feed on human foods or garbage has probably set up hundreds of thousands of situations that could have led to human injury, yet only a few did.

5. I've seen people pet, poke, and even "shake hands" with a black bear. The restraint that the powerful black bear normally displayed in these circumstances always amazed me.

6. Sudden encounters with black bears, even mothers with cubs, almost never lead to injury -- further evidence of the bears' tolerance for human beings. In a sudden encounter the black bear's behavior is different from the grizzly's. When a wild black bear suddenly encounters a person, it frequently will charge toward the person, swatting the ground with a front paw or making loud, blowing noises. Although such actions may make your palms sweat and your legs shake, they are rarely followed by attack.

7. Researchers studying black bears confirm that black bear females are seldom aggressive, even when harassed. ... In developed areas, however, where black bears have become habituated to people and accustomed to feeding on human food or garbage, there is evidence of increased danger from females with cubs.

8. Although black bears are normally tolerant, they are dangerous under certain circumstances. They can bite through live trees thicker than a man's arm.

9. ... most black bears can become accustomed to people and their foods without endangering human lives.

10. Your best weapon to minimize the risk of a bear attack is your brain.

11. A cautious traveler in bear country is usually aware of which way the wind is blowing. Because bears have such acute senses of smell, they commonly detect a person by scent. But they cannot smell you unless the wind carries your odor to them or they encounter odor traces that you have left behind. If you are traveling with the wind blowing into or across your face, then bears ahead cannot smell you. If you think that a bear ahead of you might not be able to smell you, then make noise.

12. The bear was attracted by the odor. It ate the food. The situation was repeated several times. The bear came sooner after people left and began to get accustomed to their odor. Nothing bad happened to it and the food was a reward.

13. Is the bear to blame? It is doing nothing more than following a foraging strategy, which, before the introduction of human recreational use of its habitat, was successful for many generations of ancestors.

14. Bears travel lines of least resistance.

15. Smell is the fundamental and most important sense a bear has. ... A bear's nose is its window into the world just as our eyes are.

16. Curiosity is as much a part of a bear as is its fur.

17. People's food and garbage are so attractive to bears not because bears will "eat anything" but rather because people's food and garbage are so easily converted into calories by bears.

18. In food-rich areas bears reproduce by as much as one to three years earlier than do their counterparts in less productive areas.

19. Where are bears most likely to be found? Near their food. ... the more food there is, the greater the chance of a bear being there.

20. In subtropical Florida some black bears do not den. ... Denning appears to be largely a response to decreased food supply in winter rather than an inability to survive cold.

21. Bears are not simple stimulus-response machines. They are much more like people than they are like insects. If you approach various people at random on a dark street and suddenly grab them from behind, some will faint, others will scream, and others may punch or shoot you. What women do will be somewhat different from what men do. The same considerations apply to bears in confrontations with people. The outcome of a given confrontation is the result of bringing the variable behavior of a given bear into interaction with the much more variable behavior of a given person.

22. Hunting is in fact a poor way to teach a bear anything since there is little opportunity to learn. Death isn't an instructor -- it is an eliminator.

23. ... certainly the black bear mother defends her cubs -- or does she? The answer is a qualified yes. The mother's response when threatened with potential danger will be to flee with the offspring, to climb a tree with them, or to stay on the ground and direct aggressive actions toward the intruder while the cubs find shelter up a tree or in dense vegation. Charges toward a potential source of danger are the aggressive action that would precede physical contact. But for black bear mothers such charges very seldom end in contact.

24. Black bear mothers are great bluffers. Charges, paw swats, huffing, and snorting are some of the aggressive gestures and sounds that they direct toward intruders. ... But contact and injury very seldom follow. I developed the hypothesis that this type of defense evolved because mothers that used it often were able to chase away potential sources of danger without resorting to combat. Because combat could lead to injury of the mother bear and the cubs could be protected without combat, black bear females with cubs evolved a strategy of bluffing.

25. If you have chosen to live surrounded by forest and bears, the outside garbage can should not be used except for nonfood items.

26. If a book titled People Attacks were written for bears, it could only depict our species as being typically bloodthirsty killers -- aggressive, dangerous, often inflicting fatal injury to bears.

27. The grizzly and black bear are ecological generalists much like we are. They may function as a grazer, browser, scavenger, or predator.

28. Most people, I believe, are willing to accept the slight chance of injury in order to maintain both species of bears.

29. Where the black bear survives, people will know that there is a forest with room enough not only for some tree harvesting and clearing for home and farm but also for wild things.

30. If we can learn to live with bears ... and if we can learn to accommodate the needs of bears in their natural environment, then maybe we can also find ways to use the finite resources of our continent and still maintain some of the diversity and natural beauty that were here when Columbus arrived.