Are black bears dangerous? Here's what to do if you see one in the wild.

·4 min read

North America houses approximately 55,000 brown bears, 30,000 in the U.S. and 25,000 in Western Canada, as of the summer of 2022, according to the Be Bear Aware campaign. The grizzly bear, a type of brown bear, became extinct in Mexico in 1964. These numbers pale in comparison to the 600,000 black bears on the continent.

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection says black bears can be found around campsites with "poorly stored food and garbage"; yet, on trails, they usually flee once they recognize a human's presence.

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Are black bears dangerous?

Black bears are dangerous wild animals that can act aggressively when threatened; yet there are a very low number of fatal bear attacks yearly. There is an average of one fatal black bear attack in North America every year, according to AZ Animals, which lists a total of 16 fatal attacks since 2010.

The National Park Service says black bear attacks are rare occurrences, happening in instances where bears are protecting “food, cubs, or their space.” All the same, black bears should be avoided and treated with space and respect.

Bear.org explains most aggressive displays by black bears are out of nervousness, rather than genuine aggression.

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How to identify a black bear

Black bears, the most common bear in North America, can have black fur, but their hair may also range from gray to cinnamon to white, depending on its location, explains the National Park Service.

Black bears lack the shoulder hump that brown and grizzly bears possess and their rear rump is higher than their shoulders, whereas other bears have a lower rump. Most noticeably, black bears are smaller than others. They stand between “2 and 3.5 feet at the shoulder when on all fours,” while brown bears range from three to five feet.

Their claws are shorter, with a harsher curve, while brown and grizzly bears have longer, less curved, claws.

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What you should do if you see a black bear

Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) gives instructional guides to follow when encountering a black bear in different situations. Much of the directions given are to avoid panicking and remain calm and collected. Do not startle the black bear.

If encountering it on a trail or in the woods, speak calmly to make your presence known. Back away slowly and calmly, in the way you came if possible while keeping your eyes on the bear. The black bear will likely flee. If it does not and instead walks toward you, do everything you can to scare it off: yell, raise your arms and throw things at it.

Should you find a black bear at your campsite, the instructions are comparable. Ensure the bear has a route it can take to exit the campsite. Make noises and throw objects at the bear to scare it off, but do not approach the bear. Do not offer the black bear food or allow it to take food.

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What to do if you are attacked by a black bear

Should the black bear attack, you must fight for your life. Minnesota’s DNR says to “kick, punch or hit the bear with whatever weapon is available. Concentrate on the face, eyes and nose.” Do not play dead.

Campers can purchase bear spray to stop aggressive behavior in bears. The NPS guides bear spray users on how to successfully use the tool in a dangerous scenario. Bear spray can be placed in a holster for easy access.

Bear spray can be purchased at stores like REI Co-op, Big 5 Sporting Goods and Home Depot.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Are black bears dangerous? What to do if you see one in the wild.