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People Are Bumping Into Lots of Bears in National Parks

Aug. 24, 2018
4 min read
Bear approaching hiker
People Are Bumping Into Lots of Bears in National Parks
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This summer has seen an unprecedented number of animal attacks in national parks.

Back in June, in the span of just over a month, at least four people were injured by wild animals in Yellowstone National Park. Add to the list of dangerous animal encounters in Yellowstone an incident that unfolded Thursday morning in the nature reserve — this time involving a bear.

According to the National Park Service, a family of four was on a hike on the park's Divide Trail, just southeast of the famous Old Faithful geyser, when they encountered a bear. The bear charged out of vegetation toward the family. As the animal charged, the family's son, a 10-year-old boy, ran away. The bear chased the boy and knocked him on the ground.

Luckily, the parents had bear spray, which they deployed five feet away from the bear. This caused the animal to shake its head and leave the area, officials said. The boy walked away from the startling incident with an injured wrist, puncture wounds to the back and injuries around the buttocks.

The encounter was the first bear attack recorded in Yellowstone in three years, according to park officials. "All of Yellowstone National Park is bear habitat: from the deepest backcountry to the boardwalks around Old Faithful," a park statement read. "Please prepare for bear encounters no matter where you go."

The 10-year-old boy's brush with death wasn't this week's only close encounter of the ursine kind for tourists out west.

Hotel staff at the famous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado (which was featured in "The Shining"), were shocked when a black bear meandered into the hotel's lobby late on Wednesday night. The bear wandered around the lobby and stood on a couch before going back out into the night from whence it came.

Fortunately, no one was injured, and the hotel staff captured a video of the close-up interaction.

“Late-night visitor from the wild side visits our hotel lobby," the hotel posted on Facebook with the video. "We’ll make an exception to the rule about jumping on the furniture.” The hotel is on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.

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If a bear spots you, NPS officials advise you do everything you can to identify yourself as a human and not a prey animal that the bear might like to eat. You can do this by talking calmly to the bear and standing your ground while slowly waving your arms. If the bear stands on its hind legs, that means it is curious and trying to get a better look at you. You can also carry bear spray — like pepper spray, but designed to repel ursine attackers — like the parents of the 10-year-old boy.

"Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second," the NPS says. "Bears may also react defensively by woofing, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones; this will help you stay calmer, and it won't be threatening to the bear."

National Park Service authorities say the first line of defense is keeping your distance from a bear and not startling the animal. "Most bears will avoid humans if they hear them coming," the NPS says. "Pay attention to your surroundings and make a special effort to be noticeable if you are in an area with known bear activity."

But keeping your distance from animals is advice goes for all wildlife, especially in national parks.

A strange incident in Wyoming's Grand Teton National park proved the legal implications of getting too close. Earlier in August, a man was arrested for goading a huge bison that had wandered into one of the park's roadways. Video shows the man getting out of his car and taunting the massive animal, standing just inches away from the bison's huge body. He was later arrested for wildlife harassment and charged with "feeding, touching, frightening or intentional disturbing of wildlife" in federal court.

Park officials say parks like Grand Tetons and Yellowstone are wildlife sanctuaries and that any type of animal needs its space, no matter how close visitors might want to get to take a picture or video. “Animals in Yellowstone are wild and unpredictable, no matter how calm they appear to be," the park said in a statement. "Give animals space when they’re near trails, boardwalks, parking lots, or in developed areas.”

Featured image by A bear approaches a hiker at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska. (Photo by Jake Bortscheller/NPS Photo).