Main reasons for human brown bear encounters

The recent trend of large carnivore encounters with humans shows also an increase of the frequency of conflicting situations. Although brown bear (Ursus arctos) encounters with humans are generally rare, information on the reasons and causes are lacking on a worldwide scale. Therefore, understanding global patterns of human-bear encounters could help reduce dangerous situations. The recently published scientific report ‘Brown bear attacks on humans: a worldwide perspective’ by G. Bombieri et al. sheds a light on the global situation.

Human vs bear interactions in Europe and worldwide

The highest number of conflicts in a European country, 131 registered encounters, took place in Romania. Other countries with high human-bear encounters numbers are Slovakia (54), Sweden (28) and Finland (17). In comparison, the highest number for Northern America is in Alaska (51), and in the east for Russia with 111 bear encounters. The number of conflicts increased worldwide. Moreover, most of the conflicts occur in the summer season, 48% of the total. Additionally, most conflicts happened during daytime (73%).

Main circumstances of the attacks

The registered bear encounters were in 99% of the cases on adults, mostly males (88%). In most of the cases, the person was alone and engaged in leisure activities, including hiking, berry/mushroom/antler collecting, camping, fishing or jogging. In the other cases, people were working outside, on their farm, guarding livestock or logging. This occurred mostly in Romania. In only a small portion of the cases, encounters occurred during hunting. In 27 cases, a bear attacked while it was being hunted, mostly in Sweden, Finland, Alaska and Russia.

Factors of attack

The most common scenario when a brown bear attacked during human-bear encounters, was when people encountered a female bear with cubs. Other reasons include sudden surprise encounters, presence of dogs, bears being injured, or predatory attacks. However, sometimes the scenario was more complex, where more than one factor took place. For example, in seven cases, the attack was caused by the interaction of a female with cubs and a dog.

Destruction and fragmentation of bear habitat

The underlying question remains why the global encounters of bears with people increase. This has mainly to do with the destruction and fragmentation of bear habitat. In many countries, logging operations are decreasing the forest surface. This forces the bears to live on smaller territories, like in Romania. Some countries try to reduce the number of conflicts by culling bears. In Romania, a brown bear trophy hunting action plan is even in force. In Slovenia, the culling of bears directly impacts other human-wildlife conflicts as well.

Importance of education

The authors of the new study state that the number of encounters could also be reduced by improving public education and awareness of the issue. The European Wilderness Society shares this opinion and therefore dedicates a lot of time to human-large carnivore educational activities in different European countries. This includes our human-Wilderness road-show with a full-size wooden bear and informative roll-ups, as well as relevant publications.

6 thoughts on “Main reasons for human brown bear encounters

  • Many thanks, Ziva.

  • Hello, the full article is available here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44341-w#Tab1 . From the paper you can see the number of attacks per country (five for Spain), but not unfortunately for a single region/population, so the number of attacks in the Pyrenees is not stated. Hope this helps!

  • Where can we access the fill report on bear/human nencounters? What are the latest statistics for incidents between bears and people in the French and Spanish Pyrenees?
    Through the University of Girona, Spain, I am studying mobilities in the Pyrenes e(both people and animals), where Slovenian bears have been imported to increase numbers, hence the request for information.

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