Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Attack: Reflecting on the Root of the Problem

Though the facts are not entirely clear, one thing can be said for sure. As development and climate change destroy habitat and food sources, bears and humans will be pushed together.
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A couple weeks ago, a very tragic event occurred in Yellowstone National Park. At a campground in the early morning, a grizzly bear injured two and killed a third person while they were sleeping in their tents. This fatality marks only the eighth time in the parks history that a grizzly bear has killed a human. This year, two of those fatalities occurred. My sincere condolences and thoughts go out to the victims and their families.

Though this event had to be horrific and terrifying for those involved, the root of the problem is much deeper and needs to be carefully considered to make sure this will not happen again. The campers who were injured did not do anything wrong. They followed all the rules, and stored their food properly as required while camping in bear country. But in bear country, you must always remember that you don't know the habits of the campers prior to your visit. This bear could have been easily rewarded by finding food left behind by careless humans in the past. Grizzly bears are intelligent creatures, and this learned behavior could have caused the bear to look for food among the tents, causing the tragic event.

Though the facts and evidence are not entirely clear on the events of that night, one thing can be said for sure. As the human population begins to grow along with the rebounding grizzly population, the two will cross paths more frequently. As development and climate change destroy habitat and food sources, bears and humans will be forced to be pushed together. We have forced the grizzly to adapt to its threshold, and now it is our turn to return the favor by adapting ourselves. We must be prepared and educated before retreating in bear country. The use of portable electric fences surrounding campsites, carrying bear pepper spray, and storing food properly are all good practices that will keep humans safe. It is now our responsibility as our part of the coexistence to do our part and utilize these tools. It will protect the lives of humans and save grizzly bears too.

In the worse-case scenario, the bear who was involved in the incident could have been looking for a human to eat. This is a very rare circumstance, and only happens when a bear is in a desperate state. Again, the problem needs to be addressed at the cause. We must allow the grizzly bear to be healthy. We must give them room and resources to thrive. We must keep their habitat intact and cease the destruction of their food sources. If we as humans continue to cut off their necessities, we will create desperate animals. A grizzly bear will do whatever it can to survive, and killing a human is always the last resort.

As a result of this horrible event, many people will continue to fear the grizzly bear. This is one of the most common misconceptions that hurt the grizzly bear's chances of survival. Why protect something you are afraid of? We must learn from this event, and take the time to understand these wonderful animals we share the earth with. If we can understand them and change the fear into respect, we CAN coexist with them peacefully. The thought of a grizzly bear provokes terror in many people. This is the result of countless sensationalized Hollywood films and scary stories that sprinkle the headlines. Grizzly bears are not these creatures. They are more afraid of us then we are of them. In fact, the rarity of this event is outstanding. Consider this -- for each person killed by a bear attack, there are 13 people killed by snakes, 17 by spiders, 45 by dogs, 120 by bees, 150 by tornadoes, 374 by lightning, and 60,000 by humans. Let's understand the grizzly bear, respect them, adjust accordingly, and do our part to coexist with them. We have the ability to protect ourselves and the grizzly bear if we want to.

WATCH me in the backcountry of Yellowstone:

This September, look for new episodes of EXPEDITION WILD with CASEY ANDERSON on Nat Geo WILD and Casey's new book, The Story of Brutus: My Life with Brutus and the Grizzlies of North America.

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