Forillon National Park
Forillon National Park is a forest park. Among its great wildlife are moose, white-tailed deer, coyotes and black bears.
The black bear arouses both fear and fascination. One thing's for sure: it's important that all visitors, especially forest hikers, learn more about this wild animal and how to behave in the event of an encounter.
Only one species of bear inhabits the forested regions of Quebec – the black bear. The black bear is intelligent, curious and discreet.
Bear behaviour is much more predictable than you might think.
No bear is a “problem bear” at birth. Except in some very rare cases, as the result of the inappropriate behaviour of humans, some bears develop behaviours that are problematic for both them and us.
Download the leaflet Sharing the territory with the black bear or ask for a paper copy on your next visit.
In the position of a black bear
All in all, plants and berries remain the bear’s preferred food.
To know how to react during an encounter with a black bear, you have to be able to put yourself in its position and learn the language of the black bear.
The black bear avoids fighting
Even among themselves, black bears prefer flight to fight – and the same applies in the case of encounters with humans. A fight with another bear represents a risk of serious injury for the individual.
As a rule, the black bear is afraid of humans
In many cases, even before you catch sight of it, a black bear will have put some distance between you and itself. The black bear is inherently afraid of humans. Black bears consider humans, as a species, to be stronger than themselves – a fact that humans should learn to take advantage of.
The black bear must survive six months without eating
Hibernation is a key factor in the behaviour of the black bear, as it must store up enough energy in order to survive through the long winter months.
Concerning a gestating female, she must also accumulate a sufficient quantity of energy during the summer and fall in order to be able not only to give birth to her cubs in the middle of winter but also to produce enough milk to feed them. Thus, the main concern of a black bear is to find food. Thanks to its excellent sense of smell and its intelligence, it is able to locate the berries and ants that it adores, tender shoots, animal carcasses, etc.
In order to stock energy without also expending too much of it, the bear seeks out easily accessible foods. Hunting down a deer or a moose can be very energy-consuming. On the other hand, when given the opportunity, a bear may find it worthwhile to attack sick or newborn animals. They are easier to catch and the risks of fight-related injury are lower. All in all, plants and berries remain the bear’s preferred food.
The black bear and human food
The black bear’s sense of smell sometimes leads it to food that humans have disposed of inappropriately or to odour sources that are not necessarily edible (e.g., a greasy barbecue or the dishwater).
Human food contains high concentrations of energy, and can thus be highly beneficial for a black bear seeking to build up its reserves. Not only is this energy source nutritious, the bear needn’t go to a lot of effort to gain access to it.
A bear that develops a taste for human food will also develop an association between humans and a source of easily accessible, high-energy food. In some situations, the bear eventually overcomes its fear of humans and seeks food sources that people inadvertently supply it with. At that point, the term “food-conditioned bear” is used.
That is when a black bear can become dangerous and will most likely end up having to be killed. Is the bear to be blamed for our negligence? It is our responsibility to dispose of our waste in a way that prevents any bear from gaining access to it. It’s a matter of safety for humans and a matter of survival for bears.
The language of the black bear
If a bear stands up on its rear legs, it's often to get a better sense of its surroundings.
Black bears communicate with various movements and a whole range of sounds. If you learn to decode some of these behaviours, you’ll be able to avoid a conflict.
In almost all encounters with humans, black bears will adopt what is called “stress behaviours” through which they communicate their fear – and a request to give them room.
A black bear that is stressed shows signs that are rather apparent:
- momentarily remains stationary
- often changes its position (i.e., gets fidgety)
- flattens its ears against its head
- clacks its teeth (referred to as “jaw popping”)
- huffs (makes a blowing noise)
A black bear that is highly stressed shows signs that are very apparent:
- woofs (inhales and exhales a number of times in rapid succession)
- makes growl-like sounds, with its mouth open
- slaps one or both feet on the ground
- makes deep-throated sounds
- charges the perceived threat (i.e., you)
An anxious mother bear exhibits stress behaviours that can be impressive:
- It moans (i.e., emits cries of fear) and its ears flatten against its head.
- It can charge the person, snorting and slapping the ground with its front paws.
At the sight of a bear’s stress behaviours, any human will be inclined to think that he is or she is dealing with a ferocious creature intent on attacking. That is not the case, however – quite to the contrary!
In bear language, charging another bear – accompanied by ground-slapping or huffing – means “You’re stressing me, you’ve entered my space! Go on, get out of here!”
Bears also communicate this way with humans who get too close. The fact is, they don’t have any other language for making themselves understood!
How to avoid a bear encounter
The mother bear is never far from her cubs. Keep your distance..
Do not surprise a black bear.
- Hike in a group. Most bears will leave the area if they are aware of your presence.
- Keep children close at hand and within sight.
- Use extra caution when travelling near rushing water or into the wind. A bear may not be able to hear or smell you coming.
- Stay in the open as much as possible.
Be alert! Watch for signs. Tracks, droppings, torn-up logs and scratched trees may indicate that a bear is nearby.
Use caution when travelling near natural bear foods. Berries and carrion (dead animals) are all food sources for bears, which they may defend. If you come upon any of these items, use extra caution; always report the presence of dead animals to park staff.
Dog safety. Dogs may infuriate a bear, inciting an attack. Your dog may then run to you with the bear in pursuit! Keep dogs on a leash at all times and never leave them unattended.
Watch for cubs. Bears may become aggressive if they feel their young are threatened. Never pass between a mother and her cubs.
Watch for area closures and bear warnings. It is illegal to enter a closed area. Area closures are posted in places where bear activity poses a danger to visitors. Bear warnings are posted in areas when there is bear activity and the chance of an encounter is heightened. Use caution in these areas.
Cyclists! Your speed and quietness put you at risk for sudden bear encounters. Slow down through shrubbed areas and when approaching streams and blind corners, make noise and be alert.
Black bear is curious by nature.
You may come across a black bear while hiking in the park. Here are a few tips to help you act and react appropriately.
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