Do Bears Attack? (Statistics of Bear Attacks and How to Avoid Them)

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Animal attacks have always been something that has terrified people. From massive sharks to fearsome wolves, there are a lot of animals that can seriously injure us. Though, there are few animals as frightening as the mighty bear. 

With most bears standing over seven feet tall and weighing a ton, they are one of the largest land predators in the world. Encountering one of these animals in the wild would be a scary experience.

But while they certainly are dangerous, you shouldn’t let your fear get the better of you. There are plenty of myths that exist about bear attacks that should be cleared up. By understanding these things, you can be better prepared to deal with a bear if you ever encounter one.

Join us in Floofmania as we look into the statistics and possibilities of bear attacks and clear up some misconceptions about them.

Are Bears Dangerous?

Bears are like most wild animals; they can be dangerous when provoked and seriously injure you if you are not careful. You should never forget that if you encounter one.

From a purely physical standpoint, bears are incredibly dangerous. Most bears stand over seven feet tall and can be surprisingly agile despite their appearance. More importantly, they have claws that can shred through wood, and teeth that can easily break bones. The last thing you want is to get too close to those.

Bears can and have attacked people in the past and caused severe injuries, but they aren’t as dangerous as you think. Just because they can seriously hurt you doesn’t mean our large friends always will.

Fact: Every year thousands of encounters take place between bears and humans, but of those thousands, only a few dozen end in violence, and less than ten in fatalities.

Do Bears Attack Unprovoked?

Although bears look terrifying, they are far away from mindless monsters and won’t attack you at random. Most bears go out of their way to avoid people. If a bear attacks you, there is usually a reason behind it. Depending on the situation and species, bears may also display certain signs before attacking, giving you a chance to leave.

Closeup of a grizzly bear with blurred-out background.

The two most common reasons behind bear attacks are

  • Defensive Attacks: Where bears act in self-defense or try to protect something and think you are threatening them.
  • Predatory Attacks: Where bears are actively trying to hunt you for food.

What Are Defensive Bear Attacks?

Defensive attacks are the most common form of bear attacks and occur during chance encounters between you and the bears. In most cases, you might have accidentally run into the bears, stumbled into their territory, or gotten too close to the cubs while their parents were nearby.

Whatever the reason, bears might feel startled or see you as a threat and will try to scare you off. If that fails, then the bears resort to attacking out of a form of self-defense.

Attacks like these are easier to deal with since the bears don’t really want to fight but just want you to leave. In many cases, the bears will display some kind of signal, trying to get you to leave. They might do things such as making noises, stiffening their stance, and swatting their paws.

These signs are meant to intimidate you and get you to leave. In most cases, these are just for show, and the bears will let you go once you back down.

Another standard method bears use is bluff charges. These are sudden charges where they will bound forward. These are not actual attacks; most bears are trying to gauge your reaction. If you hold your ground, the bear will leave you alone; if you panic, bears might take that chance to attack.

Fact: Only one in a million black bears will attack a human every year.

What Are Predatory Bear Attacks?

Whereas defensive attacks usually happen by chance or bad luck, predatory attacks are intentional as the bears hunt you

Although bears do generally not eat humans, some bears in isolated places might not be used to humans and view you as potential prey and will try to attack. It also depends on which species you are dealing with. Polar bears are probably the most likely culprits for predatory attacks while grizzly and black bears might leave you alone if you don’t bother them.

Most of the time, the bear might not even be after you necessarily, but the food you have with you. Places like camping sites, national parks, and rural areas often have problems where bears might get drawn by the smell of food and try to take it for themselves. If you happen to be nearby, the bear might attack so it can have the food for itself.

An important distinction is that since the bears are actively hunting, their behavior will differ from during a defensive attack. Rather than being surprised or nervous, they are more curious and aggressive toward you.

Since these bears are not surprised or in “defense mode”, they are much quicker to attack and will not necessarily try to warn you off. While they might try to size you up, they are less likely to back down. 

Thankfully attacks like these are rare as most bears prefer to avoid humans. Attacks like this tend to occur in isolated areas where there aren’t that many people. 

How Likely Are you To Be Attacked By a Bear?

While thousands of human-bear encounters occur yearly, only a fraction ends violently, and most end with the human walking away shaken but uninjured. Our intelligent friends know that humans can cause a lot of trouble, so they avoid humans altogether.  

Our large friends would instead stick to easier prey such as deer and elk than risk fighting a human. While a bear might decide that risk is worth it from time to time, this is incredibly rare, although some species are more willing to take that risk than others such as polar bears.

Fact: The odds of getting attacked by a bear are 2.1 million to 1. You’re more likely to get struck by lightning than get attacked by a bear!

How Many Bear Attacks Are There Per Year?

Across the world, there have been 664 bear attacks between 2000–2015. Of these attacks, 183 took place in the US, which averages to about 11 bear attacks in the US annually. Most of these attacks were defensive, with as many as half involving a female bear trying to protect its cubs when someone got too close. 

In most cases, the person involved survived the attack; in fact, there have only been reported 180 fatal bear attacks since the 1700s. That means only about 60 people have deadly encounters with bears every century!

This means you can rest easy and enjoy that stroll in the woods. You have nothing to worry about as long as you’re careful and take precautions.

Fact: Fact: 27,5% of reported bear attacks worldwide between 2000-2015 were in the US

What Factors Affect Bear Attacks?

While globally, the odds of getting attacked by a bear are pretty small, some factors can increase or decrease the likelihood of you running into trouble with one of our ursine friends. 

Where You Live Plays A Role In Your Likelihood Of Being Attacked By A Bear

Not all places carry the same risk of running into a bear within the US. Where you live will play a big part in how careful you need to be. The odds of running into bears in New York are much smaller than in the forests of Oregon or Washington.

Rural and less developed areas tend to be at higher risk because they have much larger bear populations and these bears are less used to people. Places like Oregon and Washington both have large swaths of wild territory that can support massive bear populations. Both states are estimated to have bear populations numbering in the tens of thousands.

If you are hiking or camping in one of these places, you should be extra careful. Additionally, since so much land is untouched by human development, the chances of running into a bear in these places are higher because of the close proximity. 

Rural areas may also have fewer means to keep bears out and once bears get used to wandering around an area, they will make it part of their hunting area. That is why there are many cases of bears entering suburban areas or farms to search for food.

However, probably the most dangerous state in terms of bear attacks is Alaska. With a whopping 100,000 bears, or one for every seven people in the state.

As a result, there is a higher percentage of bear attacks in Alaska than in other states. 

Fact: From 2000-2017, there were 68 hospitalizations caused by bear attacks in Alaska. That adds up to a 3.8 hospital admission annually or 8.6 people injured by bears from every 10,000 per year.

Whether You’re Alone or In A Group Plays A Role In The Likelihood Of A Bear Attack

As the old saying goes, there is safety in numbers, which applies to bear attacks too. Most bear attacks, especially during predatory attacks, usually happen when you are alone. 

Although bears do not generally eat humans (with the exception of polar bears), they are opportunistic hunters, and if they see you wandering their territory alone, they might take the risk and try making a meal for you.

The key takeaway here is that bears will attack if they think you are an easy meal. The best way to avoid them getting that idea is by sticking to a group. Our furry friends are tough, but they won’t risk picking a fight with a large group of people. Instead, bears will often leave you alone and go after easier prey.

What Types of Bear Are The Most Dangerous?

There are three types of bears in the US, and their differences extend beyond their fur color. They can also have different temperaments and behaviors, affecting whether or not they attack you.

The three bear species in America are:

  • Black Bears
  • Grizzley Bears (AKA Brown Bears)
  • Polar Bears

To help you remember, there is a little jingle you can use to remember which bears are the most aggressive. “If it’s black, fight back. If it’s brown, lie down. If it’s white, goodnight.”

Black Bears: The Least Dangerous American Bear

Of all the bears in America, black bears are the most commonly found from coast to coast along the mountains and forests. You are most likely to encounter these bears, though black bears are also the least aggressive.

Although they eat meat, most black bears’ diet consists of plant matter, such as berries and fruits.

They have the mildest temperament and prefer to avoid fights, especially from anyone they might consider a threat. Humans are among these animals, and unlike some of their larger cousins, you can intimidate a black bear if you try to face them down.

That doesn’t mean they are completely docile, though. Black bears, like other animals, can become aggressive if they feel cornered; they might attack if you stumble into their hunting areas and get too close to their cubs.

Of all the bear species, they are some of the most adaptable and accustomed to our presence. Some black bears have gotten used to this that try to get their food from humans. Black bears are sometimes seen raiding campsites or even eating out of the garbage if they smell food.

This can be a problem as they might become more aggressive when food is involved, as black bears will fight to defend their haul. 

Surprisingly, black bears are also willing to take a risk by attacking humans and trying to eat them though these are isolated incidents.

Despite black bears being the most common bear in North America, the number of attacks involving them remains low. There have been roughly 66 black bear attacks, which make up only 36% of all bear attacks. This is in spite of black bears outnumbering grizzly and polar bears many times.

Grizzly Bears Are Shy But Can Be Very Aggressive

Like their cousins, grizzly bears prefer to avoid us and do not usually pick fights. However, if they decide to risk a fight, grizzlies are large, more heavily built, and far less susceptible to intimidation than black bears. 

While you might be able to frighten off a black bear, those tricks won’t work on grizzlies. They will see these attempts to scare them as a challenge and try to fight back. 

When they do attack, the most common cause is self-defense, with grizzlies responsible for most defensive attacks in the US, mostly involving female bears trying to defend their cubs from you.

Closeup of a grizzly bear in profile
Fact: Most bear attacks in the US involve grizzly bears. In Yellowstone, one of the most populated areas with grizzly bears, there have been 44 recorded grizzly bear attacks since 1979. That gives visitors a 1 in 2 million chance of getting attacked when visiting the national park.

Polar Bears: The Most Dangerous, But Also The Rarest American Bear

Probably the rarest bear in the US are the polar bears, but they are also the most dangerous. Physically, a polar bear can stand over ten feet tall and outweigh its cousins. They are the most carnivorous bear species, eating meat and fish almost exclusively.

Living in very remote areas also means polar bears are some of the most aggressive. They don’t try to avoid humans like grizzlies or black bears but face them head-on. Many predatory bear attacks are caused by polar bears who view us as an exotic snack.

Polar bears are actually the only species of bear that naturally sees humans as prey.

Thankfully actual polar bear attacks are rare because of just how rare it is for humans to encounter polar bears.

Fact: Between 1870-2014, there have been 73 confirmed polar bear attacks across the arctic circle (Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the US.) Of these encounters, 20 ended in death and 63 with someone injured.
Polar bear standing on an icy surface.

Author: Quade Ong

Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world!

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