Bears don't want to attack people. We kill them far more often than they kill us, and many bears seem to be aware of that ratio. When they do attack, it's usually because they were either starved or startled.
Yet despite their hesitance, attacks have increased in many parts of the world. Yellowstone National Park has seen human-bear conflicts rise in recent years, for example, including two fatal attacks in 2011 (the park's first in 25 years) and another in 2015. In June 2016, a bicyclist was killed by a grizzly just south of Glacier National Park in Montana. Wildlife officials face similar issues around the U.S. and Canada, as well as other countries like Japan and Russia. This has been linked to a variety of factors, including habitat loss, human intrusion, food shortages and climate change.
Bear behavior is still heavily influenced by biology and upbringing, too: American black bears are relatively docile and skittish, for example, while polar bears are more aggressive and more likely to see people as prey. Yet trying to fully understand any bear attack is a daunting task, and since we can't convey our peaceful intentions to bears, it's generally safer to just stay away.
Nonetheless, occasional run-ins are inevitable. Most people are as surprised to see a bear as it is to see them, and the ensuing interactions are often rife with misunderstanding. The species, time of year and other details dictate the best response, but here's an overview of how to handle these harrowing encounters:
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