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How to stay safe in a bear attack

A file photo of a black bear.
A file photo of a black bear.
Photo by fsnorthernregion via Flickr Creative Commons

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This week, a hiker was attacked by a black bear in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains near Sierra Madre, California. 

Thankfully the hiker survived but it is the second attack in the last few months, begging the question, what's going on with bears in the area?

For more on what's happening with human-bear relations and how to stay safe in a bear encounter, Take Two's Alex Cohen spoke with Andrew Hughan.

He is an information officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

Interview highlights

How common are bear attacks in the San Gabriel mountains?

There are very, very few bear attacks. We've had two this summer unfortunately - we get a couple every couple of years. The good news is, there's never been a bear related fatality in California so, there really isn't a public safety threat here. This is a very popular trail - something like 100 people a day go up and down this trail. In this case, it was just bad luck. Wrong place, wrong time - both for the hiker and the bear. 

We want to emphasize this was an extremely rare case if you hike there and in the San Gabriels. 

What do you do if you come across a bear?

Look large, yell, throw a rock at it, stand your ground. Don't ever run away, that's the worst thing you can do. 99 times out of 100, the bear is going to run away. 

Often they will "bluff charge" you and if you have the courage and don't make eye contact, look down and hold your ground, the bear will run up and make kind of this huffing sound and then run away. 

For hikers, make lots of noise. Put something in your backpack. Put something that clinks. When you go camping, tap your camp stove or your metal cup. Make as noise as you can on the trail, talk and make lots of noise. 

Don't use headphones. Be aware of your surroundings because if you hear them and make lots of noise, bears run away. If you have your headphones in, you're not going to hear the threat coming. 

What if you find a mother and cub?

There's two steps to a mother and cub. Just stop, back up, don't make any sudden moves or noises.  

What do you do if you are attacked by a bear?

If it comes to where you're attacked, fight back. Curl yourself up in a ball, put your hands over your neck - that's a vulnerable part. Make as much noise as you possibly can. Kick and do everything you can.

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*Quotes edited for clarity

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