Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Carnivore Attacks

Noppadol Paothong - MDC
A recent study of carnivore attacks on humans is worth reading.  It focuses on attacks by brown and black bears, coyotes and cougars. which are increasing in frequency.  While the 24 hour reporting cycle of media with sensational video reports catches our attention, the attacks are infrequent and frequently preventable.

The species most likely to attract out attention in Missouri is the black bear which is actually an omnivore, carnivorous primarily when the exceptional opportunity presents itself.  Steven Herrero of the University of Calgary is an authority on bear attacks and safety, and he reviews the study's results at this link.*

As the human population climbs, we move further into landscapes previously the domain of coyotes, bears, wolves and cougars.  More outdoor activity in the wild and an emphasis on extreme adventure puts people at greater risk.  On the other hand attacks remain rare, especially when we consider the increasing numbers of humans out in the wild.  They found 700 attacks from all species in North America and Europe since the 1950s.  Their results are summarized below.

As more people enter the wilderness areas, there is an increasing need to educate the public on managing their risks.  Around half of well documented incidents were associated by risky human behavior, especially leaving children unattended, running and hiking alone at dusk.  Other factors included walking with a dog and dealing with a wounded animal while hunting.  Feeding bears and sleeping in tents with food supplies further encourages attacks. 
Click to enlarge - from Nature.com
It is important to understand relative risks of outdoor activities.  Statistics for the United States from Outdoor Life  list mortality from outdoor activities.  There are annually an average of 5 fatalities from venomous snake bites and 51 deaths from lightening.  This compares with 55 deaths from black bear attacks over the last 110 years.  Some Missouri figures are below.


Missouri Outdoor Mortality - MDC
    Take home lessons:
    1. Attacks by bears and carnivores are extremely rare.
    2. Avoid feeding bears.
    3. Become Bear Aware.

    * The complete study with the data is at Nature.com.

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