Out of all the bears that you might encounter in North America, it is the black bear, the smallest of the North American bears, that you are likely to run into. Black bears are crafty, curious, and commonly encountered in and around towns and homes when searching for food.
Although their antics can be amusing, we need to know if black bears are a risk to people. Are black bears dangerous?
Yes, black bears are quite dangerous and responsible for more attacks on humans than other bears. Although not as large as brown bears, they can still be massive, fast, and strong.
Black bears have a reputation for shyness and curiosity rather than sheer ferocity, but make no mistake: they weigh several hundred pounds, and have claws and teeth that can easily strip the bark from trees, and can do serious damage.
You’d be wise to treat black bears with the respect that they deserve. I’ll tell you everything you need to know about them, and how to stay on their good side, in this article…
Black Bear Overview, Temperament and Habitat
Black bears can be found across much of North America, and they’re quite common throughout the eastern half of the United States, particularly around the Appalachian Mountains.
Black bears, like pretty much all bear species, would much rather avoid people if given a chance and are only concerned with finding food, sleeping, mating and protecting their babies in the case of sows.
But, because black bears are so curious and so many compared to other bears, you’re far more likely to run into them in areas where their territory butts up against human settlements.
Black bears can be surprisingly bold, and they lose their fear of people quickly. This results in them routinely raiding dumpsters and trash cans, and even convenience marts and grocery stores to find easily-gotten food.
This, naturally, sets the stage for bad outcomes as far as people are concerned. A bear that is not afraid of humans and will willingly come close to groups of people is eventually going to result in an attack, and black bears are also more likely to attack people for food in extremis when out in the wild.
For both of these reasons, you must be alert to the presence of black bears in any areas where they are found, and have a response plan in mind for fighting them off if required.
Do Black Bears Protect Their Territory?
Yes, they can be. Black bears as a rule will retreat from people, but if close to a den area or with cubs, they can be surprisingly territorial.
When this happens, it’s common for a black bear to stand up on its hind legs or claw at the ground while making snuffing sounds and growling.
If you see this behavior, it’s time to go the other way, but don’t take your eyes off the bear!
Do Black Bears Act Aggressively Toward Each Other?
Yes, they can. Black bears will display territorial tendencies, act protective of food, ward off unwanted attention from suitors and generally keep all other bears at a distance when with cubs.
Do Black Bears Threaten People?
They can, though this is still unlikely. When confronted with people, particularly when in the wild, black bears typically prefer evasion to confrontation.
Assuming a person is not in the bear’s territory or threatening a mother with cubs, a black bear attack is most likely to result if the bear is starving or has not enjoyed a meal of mostly animal protein in some time.
Have There Been Recorded Black Bear Attacks on People?
Yes, many. Black bear attacks on people stretch back through the ages into distant history, and there are recorded attacks by black bears on people but European settlers and by the Indians alike.
In fact, you are far more likely to be attacked by a black bear than by a grizzly bear or polar bear in North America.
This is because black bear populations are much larger, they are more commonly found near human settlements, and also because they are significantly more likely to come into close contact with people voluntarily or otherwise.
What Will Trigger a Black Bear Attack on a Person?
Anything, including doing nothing, may trigger a black bear attack. Wild animals are unpredictable, and black bears are no different.
However, should you surprise a bear at a close distance, come too close to a mother bear that has cubs or encounter a bear that is starving, then an attack is highly likely.
Also, it is possible to trigger an attack simply by being in a black bear’s territory, or too close to their “inner territory” or nesting site.
This type of attack can certainly result without any warning at all, and for this reason it is best to stay on your toes and stay alert whenever you are in black bear territory, whether or not you are in town!
Just How Strong is a Black Bear?
Black bears are very strong, although we don’t exactly have testing protocols that we can conduct on wild or captive black bears to accurately gauge their strength.
However, we do know that black bears can easily haul their multi-hundred pound bodies straight up trees, rip bark off of trees like it is a plastic wrapper, and easily maul and dismember a human being.
Suffice it to say black bears are plenty strong enough to kill you with ease!
Can Black Bears Bite?
Yes, and they absolutely will bite! Black bears bite to process food, obviously, and also when on the attack or on defense.
They have large teeth designed for dealing with meat, and can produce immense bite pressure.
What Does a Black Bear Attack Look Like?
A black bear attack will sometimes, but not always, be preceded by a threatening posture and vocalization.
Watch for the bear to stand up straight on his hind legs, growl, bark, huff, puff and stomp or claw at the ground. This is an obvious message that the bear is preparing to attack.
If that doesn’t work, the bear will close in and slam into its antagonist or prey, swiping and tearing with its claws, biting, stomping and generally using its size and strength to its advantage.
Victims are typically eaten afterward if the bear is victorious.
How Do You React to a Black Bear Attack?
If the bear is engaging in a threat display, you only want to back off if the bear is at a considerable distance as this is usually a territorial response.
However, at a near distance you should not run away: instead, try to “get big.” Raise your arms over your head and gather with other people if they are nearby.
Make lots of noise, and swing and raise any objects that you have at hand to increase your visual profile.
In short, you want to look big, mean and terrifying. With just a little bit of luck, the black bear should decide that you are nothing worth messing with and disengage.
If that doesn’t work, be prepared to fight back with everything you have. Bear spray is almost always ideal to a charging bear, and most firearms are adequate to stop or repel a bear attack if you can land a good shot or two.
Whatever happens, be prepared to fight and don’t give up! Remember that a black bear will kill you and eat you as food, whereas some other bears will stop attacking you once they think you aren’t a threat.
Will a Black Bear Eat a Person?!
Absolutely, yes! Black bears are one species of bear that will eat you if they kill you for any reason, and a black bear is more likely than most to deliberately attack you as food.
Can People Catch Diseases from Black Bears?
Yes, though this is hardly an issue to worry about unless you’re in direct contact with a bear or eating bear meat.
Bears play host to the usual assortment of external parasites, including mites, ticks, and so forth, and they can also transmit canine distemper and a variety of other internal parasites.