It’s upsetting to hear about bear attacks on hikers in other states. After getting way closer to a bear early this month than I’d been before, it got me thinking … what if I was on foot? The bear was near the trail I’d been on. My bear savvy came from hiking in the Appalachians, not Florida, where bear encounters are so much less frequent. So I called on the best source I know, Joy Hill at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, to offer up some bear safety tips for Florida hikers. Here’s what she had to say.
If you encounter a bear. If you see a bear from a distance, enjoy the experience, but do not move toward the bear. If you are close, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back way slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route.
If you encounter a bear at close range. Remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.
- Do not turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run. Back away slowly into the house or secure area.
- Avoid direct eye contact. Bears and many other animals may view this as aggressive behavior.
- Report any bear that is threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock, or causing property damage to the FWC (call 888-404-3922)
If the bear paws the ground, huffs and puffs, clacks and snorts, or runs directly at you, they are trying to scare you off. If you stand your ground, the bear will likely stop and move away.
No matter what happens, do not run away. Continue slowly backing away, talking and holding up your arms. The bear may charge or vocalize several times until he is comfortable turning his back on you and leaving.
While we have not had a predatory attack on a person by a bear in Florida, people have been bitten and scratched by bears. UPDATE: As of December 2013, there was an attack on a human by a bear in Seminole County, in the bear-busy Wekiva River Basin. The person was between the bear and its cubs.
If a black bear attacks you: Fight back aggressively. People in other states have successfully fended off black bear attacks using rocks, sticks, or even their bare hands!
Bears are wild animals and must be respected. Even though they are typically quiet and shy animals, they have the potential to seriously harm humans. Do not take unnecessary risks!
Thanks to Joy and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for this advice.
They provide much more information about Florida black bears on their website.