Never run from a bear!
That mantra has been repeated over and over in Alaska and across the country for years. The conventional wisdom is that running from a bear triggers a "chase'' response.
And there is some evidence to support this theory in some cases. If you are face-to-face with a bear at close range and you turn and run, the bear is likely to chase. It's sort of like blinking in a gunfight. Canadian biologists Stephen Herrero and Andrew Higgins have documented any number of cases where people met apparently aggressive bears, fled and were attacked.
This makes perfect evolutionary sense. Bears live in a dangerous world. They are constantly forced to weigh the consequences of being injured by any animal that stands up to them -- a moose with its dangerous front feet (moose have killed more people than bears in the city of Anchorage), another bear, even a human. But an animal that turns and flees, thus displaying its defenseless backside? That creature is fair game in the bear world.
But what about a non-aggressive bear? The sort of bear someone is most likely to meet. The sort of bear from which hundreds, possibly thousands, of Alaska have run only to suffer plenty of embarrassment because they ran from a bear and, well, "you know you're NEVER supposed to run from a bear."
Well, now California television station KTLA has some real-life, aerial footage of someone running from a bear. The video was shot from a helicopter following the bear. Watch it and see what happens:
Note then that the human in the encounter appears to be walking and texting on a cellular phone when he meets the bear, which would seem to indicate that walking and texting in bear-rich environments (most of Alaska would so qualify) is not a good idea. Neither, of course, is putting in ear buds, turning up the music, and tuning out the environment, but that doesn't seem to stop people from doing so.
It is not uncommon to find headphone-equipped runners in Far North Bicentennial Park or Chugach State Park running trails oblivious to the world around them, which probably makes it a good thing that bears don't chase every human who runs. If they did, how many bear attacks might there be in an average Alaska summer? Your guess?
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com.