It is pleasing to imagine wild animals as creatures with cute brown noses, big eyes, fuzzy fur coats, and a goofy Disney like temperament. The problem is that this isn’t usually true. Wild animals aren’t the genteel beasts that you see in movies. They can be dangerous, unpredictable, and incredibly strong.
Look at the case of Mark Reynolds, for instance. The 35-year old headed out for a trek with his mountain bike in California, in 2004. He never came home and was eventually found partially devoured by a mountain lion. Now, you won’t see that in a Disney movie anytime soon.
So, maybe these things do happen, you’re thinking. It doesn’t mean that all wild animals are dangerous. There have got to be some friendly critters out there. Well, you may be right, but the 41-year old Arkansas woman, who was attacked by a cougar would probably have a different opinion. In 2003, she was killed in her own garden.
This echoes a similar event, which happened in 1999 after a toddler was dragged away and eaten by a mountain lion. There are more stories. There are always more stories. They’re not restricted to just cougars either. What about bears, moose, coyotes, and bison? Ultimately, the wild is a dangerous place for people and if you want to learn how to survive a wild animal attack, acknowledgment of this is the first step.
Clearly, the best weapon at your disposal is common sense and awareness. If you are going to spend any time out in the wilderness, be aware of what is out there. Know what kind of environment you’re heading into and what it may hold. This is important because it is always better to just avoid predators if possible.
This means staying at a distance and putting measures in place to keep wild animals away from your tent or rest area. This might include any of the following steps:
– Keep your camp/area tidy. Food will attract predators, so never leave wrappers or packing on the ground. Wash all utensils and plates after eating. Seal all leftover food in airtight containers or hang it from a tree. You must place your food at least 200m away from the camp while you sleep.
– Do not, under any circumstances, take food into the tent. You should also avoid sleeping in the clothes that you cooked in. They need to be left outside.
– Never feed wild animals (deer, raccoons, squirrels) as this can attract mountain lions to your location.
Getting Ready for a Fight
Obviously, the last thing that you want is to have to go toe to toe with a dangerous predator. Thankfully, this is very rare. Most animals are as keen to stay away from humans as we are them and they’ll only approach if smell a free meal. However, incidents do happen and it is important to know how to survive a wild animal attack.
It is a good idea to carry a number of defensive items in your pack. This might be (at the extreme end) a gun or it could be something like a hunting knife or a club. You might even feel safer carrying pepper spray with you. Whatever you think might be useful in a close quarters attack is worth tucking into your bag or rucksack.
Deterring and Surviving a Bear Attack
The reality is that all bears are very dangerous. They certainly aren’t the cuddly creatures that you see in films. While they are just animals like us, with needs and survival instincts, it is important not to come out on the losing side in a fight with a bear. The most dangerous situations are if you accidentally surprise the animal or inadvertently threaten the cubs.
Bears are also much more aggressive when they’re hungry and haven’t eaten for days. It is brown bears that are the most dangerous species, but black bears are responsible for deaths too. In fact, they’ve killed over fifty people throughout the last century. The most recent incident occurred in 2002 when a female hiker was attacked and devoured by a bear in Tennessee.
The most immediate response, if a bear enters your camp, should be as follows:
– Never run. This marks you out as prey and the bear is likely to chase and attack you.
– Avoid any sudden movements. Keep your motions slow, calm, and deliberate.
– Lift babies and small children off the ground, so they don’t look like prey.
– Make lots of noise (bang pots and pans) to make yourself sound scary.
– Wave your arms above your head to make yourself look scary.
– Be careful not to cut off or corner the bear; leave as many escape routes as possible.
– Stand upwind of the animal, so that it can tell that you’re human (not regular prey).
Prevention Is Highly Encouraged
The one tactic that definitely works is avoidance. Just stay well away from bears of all kinds, but particularly grizzlies. The truth is that grizzly bears have no special love for humans. They have been known to eat people, but they’d rather stick to their usual prey. Most attacks only happen because the bear feels threatened.
Try not to be too silent as you move through the forest. On blind corners and in thick areas of trees, rustle the branches, talk out loud, tread heavily; this is usually enough to alert a bear and send them running in the other direction. If you chance upon an animal carcass, move away from it quickly and never approach bear cubs. Do not travel solo unless absolutely necessary.
In the Unlikely Event of a Full Attack
As mentioned, grizzly attacks are quite rare, but they do happen. Often, they could have been avoided with the right knowledge. If you encounter a bear and the animal spots you and doesn’t automatically wander away, you need to show it that you aren’t a threat or prey. The way to do this is to stay calm and back away slowly.
Speak softly, in a calm tone. This will indicate that you’re not a territorial rival. You are conceding to the bear and telling it that you don’t want to fight. Be careful not to turn your back on the animal and do not run. This will prompt an attack. Avoid staring too intently into its eyes, as this is a sign of aggression. You will know if the bear plans to charge because its ears will lower and so will its entire head.
The only helpful course of action if a bear charges is to instantly lie face down on the floor. Cover your head with your arms and shoulders to protect your skull and lie completely still. You need to convince the bear that it has killed and neutralized the threat that it thought you were posing. The bear will likely bite and claw you, but you must stay still. It could save your life.
If it becomes clear, however, that the bear is not going to leave, then it probably plans to eat you. Now is the time to fight for your life with everything that you have. A knife, a rock, a sharp stick, even your fingernails can all be a weapon if you apply enough force. Focus on the eyes and the nose and attack as hard as possible. It will be your last chance.