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Bear safety tips: what to do if you spot a bear

Staying safe in bear country
WATCH ABOVE: After two recent bear attacks in Alberta, there are now bear warnings in a number of areas including popular hiking trail. Global’s Doug Vaessen has tips to keep you safe.

With two bear attacks in mountain parks in just as many days, Albertans may wish to brush up on their bear safety before heading out for a weekend hike.

READ MORE: Canmore bear encounter leaves woman seriously injured

READ MORE: ‘He chased the bear off her’: Alberta campground owner says son ran to save hikers

University of Calgary Outdoor Centre instructor and guide Rachel Oggy gave Global News tips for how to react if you encounter a bear in the backcountry.

Be prepared: carry bear spray

Before you head to the mountain parks, experts advise you purchase bear spray.

“Everybody should be carrying bear spray,” Oggy explained. “We have very good statistics on it; bear spray is very good at stopping bear attacks of any kind.”

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Oggy suggests carrying on your hip, and not in your backpack, for easier access.

If you see a bear

 If hikers, campers or outdoor enthusiasts stumble across a bear, Oggy advises you stop, stay calm, ready your bear spray and avoid the urge to run.

“It’s very important not to run,” Oggy said.

“Running turns you into prey when you may not have otherwise been that.”

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Oggy suggests clumping together with the other people in your hiking group to make yourself appear bigger.

Additionally, Oggy said it’s best to speak calmly to the bear to give it time to assess the situation.

As you do this, back away slowly.

If the bear approaches, you’ll have to try to figure out why it’s walking toward you.

“We look at the behaviour to determine is it reacting in a predatory fashion, or a defensive fashion,” Oggy said.

If the bear approaches defensively:

If the bear is feeding, protecting its young or surprised it may approach you defensively.

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“If it’s defensive, which is much more common, then we want to show it we’re not a threat, so we’re going to back away, we’re just going to talk calmly, but we’re going to make ourselves small and unobtrusive and show it we don’t want to cause any problem with you,” Oggy explained.

If the bear approaches non-defensively: 

Bears may approach because they’re curious, or more rarely, because they see you as potential prey.

“If it appears to be acting in a predatory manner, then we want to show it that we’re not good prey.”

Oggy suggests waving your arms, standing your ground and acting aggressively.

When to use bear spray

If the bear begins getting close, from a bus-length to a car-length, Oggy said that’s when you would deploy the spray.

“That’s both to stop an attack, as well as to deter it from getting that close to people in the future.

If you’re travelling with children 

When bringing your children with you camping or hiking, it’s important to teach them how to react during animal encounters.

“If you’re hiking with children, the big issue there is they’re little, so if a bear was going to react in a predatory manor, they would certainly be more interested in going after smaller, easier things,” Oggy said.

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“Children can be unpredictable, so if you’re hiking with children what you want to tell them is any time you see any animal – you want to come right up close and tuck yourself behind mom, dad or whichever adult you’re hiking with.”

Oggy suggests teaching your kids to behave this way when any animal is encountered, even a deer, will make it more routine and easier to remember.

For more information on bear safety, including how to handle a bear attack, visit the Parks Canada website.

WATCH: University of Calgary Outdoor Centre instructor and guide Rachel Oggy joins Global News with some advice on bear safety when planning a trip into the backcountry.
Bear safety in the backcountry
Bear safety in the backcountry