Friday, May 28, 2010

Don't Feed Bears!

Please...no matter what...do not feed bears! Not at Shenandoah National Park, or any National Forest, bears that may appear around your home, or anywhere. Giving them any food (human or natural) changes their natural behavior and they start to lose their natural shyness towards humans. Feeding bears isn’t just a bad decision, it is against the law in Virginia.


“Human actions can really lead to the downfall of animals,” said Shenandoah National Park Biologist Rolfe Gubler. “Baiting and feeding can lead to animals becoming food conditioned and that can be a real problem anywhere. You don’t want to have a habituated or food conditioned black bear in [your] back yard.”

Typically, bears have a healthy fear of humans, said Gubler. However, when a bear becomes habituated, or accustomed, to humans it can be a dangerous thing. It can eventually lead to a bear becoming “food conditioned” to where humans cannot get a bear to disperse from a picnic table, he said. When that happens, park rangers oftentimes have to capture the bear and relocate it somewhere else in the park where it will not come into contact with humans.

In Spring, people are likely to see bears as they come out of hibernation. According to Gubler, bears emerge from hibernation — more accurately known as “winter lethargy” - in April. Winter lethargy is a lowered period of activity, said Gubler, not necessarily the deep sleep popularly associated with hibernating bears.

During Winter lethargy, bears do not eat very much, if at all, because they live off the fat reserves they have stored up from the past Fall. And so they emerge from their dens in the Spring with an appetite. Because food is not as plentiful in the Spring, bears are known to hit bird feeders, dig into garbage cans and gobble up pet food that is left outside.

The best way to bear-proof your yard is trash management, said Gubler. Keep garbage inside a garage or shed, take pet foods inside and even consider taking down your bird feeders, at least for the months of April and May, said Gubler.


But should you happen to have a visit from a bear at your house this Spring or Summer, try to appear big and loud in order to scare the bear away. One thing you don’t want to do is run, which could trigger a bear’s reflex to chase. By nature they are not an aggressive, dangerous animal - but they are wild animals.

If you can’t get the bear to disperse after using your stature and loud noises you may want to call the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries at 804-367-1258, where a dispatcher can be reached 24 hours a day seven days a week. If they are not able to respond in time, residents may also call their local law enforcement agency.

In the event you were to strike a bear while driving in your car, treat the incident the same as if you were to hit a deer and call the local law enforcement. If you feel the need or desire to get out of your car and the bear is still nearby, use caution.

“You just have to remind people that black bears are wild animals and can be very dangerous and unpredictable,” said Gubler.

Always respect any wild animal when you encounter it, especially the black bear. And please don't attempt to feed them - let's keep them wild!


For more black bear photos, information and video clips, visit the black bears section of my Web site.


A true and educational story for both young and old about why people should not feed wild Black Bears. Written by my young friend Gabriel Mapel.

Click here for more information