Killings by black bears put into perspective

February 12, 2010 - 6:18 PM CST

Thank you all for pushing us past the $60,000 mark with your donations.  We greatly appreciate the help!  We also appreciate the submissions of cub names, purchases of Lily memorabilia, etc.  Many of you included heartfelt ‘Thank You’ notes with your donations and name submissions.  We like to hear how important the Lily Den Cam has become to so many people.  We will make a huge effort, with the help you’re giving us, to let you ‘follow’ Lily and her cub with us this summer, and to have another den cam next winter.

If anyone saw the February 1 issue of Scholastic Science World and saw a picture by Lynn Rogers on page 8 with the caption, “Female bears wake up briefly during hibernation to give birth,” please know that Lynn didn’t write the caption, and we know none of you wrote it, either.  We know that just one cub is plenty to keep a mother bear awake much more than ‘briefly.’

On another subject, we promised a Lily fan to mention that black bears have killed people.  She had a personal tragedy as a relative of 11-year-old Sam Ives, who was taken from a tent in Utah in June 2007.  Black bears have killed people—63 across North America since 1900.  Each one was a big tragedy.  Most made national news.

We’ve tried to understand why these usually timid animals sometimes become killers.  We’ve investigated predatory attacks and have come up with no good explanation.  We’ve heard all the attempts to explain them, and all the attempts fail.  We don’t understand them.  We can only put them in perspective.

To do that, we went to the archives of the National Center for Health Statistics, which any of you can do.  The numbers we got some years ago showed that for EACH killing by a black bear across North America, there were the following killings in the United States alone: 13 deaths from snakebite, 45 killings by dogs, 120 from bee or hornet stings, 249 from lightning, 60,000 homicides, and 120,000 traffic deaths.  That doesn’t tell the whole story about relative danger because there are differences in exposure to the various causes.

A related set of statistics shows that across North America about 1 black bear out of a million kills someone, 1 grizzly bear out of 50,000 kills someone, and 1 human out of 18,000 kills someone.  The 18,000 in the last statement includes people of all ages, including babies.  Those statistics come from knowing the bear populations, the human population from the US and Canadian census bureaus, and homicides from US and Canadian Departments of Justice.

We feel pretty safe being in the woods with bears.  When one of us is far from a road with a family of bears, we worry mainly about getting poked in the eye with a stick, slipping on mossy logs after a rain, and getting stung by hornets.  Sue carries an EpiPen (Epinephrine) because she’s allergic to stings.  Before GPS, we worried a little about getting lost on cloudy days.  The bears, wolves, moose, and other animals are the least of our worries.  We have never had a bear come after us and attack.  The rare physical misunderstandings we’ve had with bears have resulted from our initiating contact.

Each killing by a bear is indeed a tragedy.  We’re just thankful that they’re too rare for us to worry about.

—Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, Biologists, North American Bear Center