Bare Facts on Bears

Grizzly Bear Kills Hiker in Yellowstone National Park

A grizzly bear is shown in this undated photo. A grizzly bear killed a man hiking in Yellowstone National Park on July 6, 2011. (Credit: Getty Images)

A couple’s hike off South Rim Drive, south of Canyon Village and east of the park’s Grand Loop Road, Wednesday (July 6) morning, turned tragic when they surprised a grizzly bear sow and her cubs. Brian Matayoshi, 57, of Torrance, California, was hiking with his wife, Marylyn, on the Wapiti Lake Trail when they encountered the bears as the couple emerged from a forested area into an open meadow.

The hikers first spotted a bear about 100 yards away and began walking in the other direction, but when they turned to look back they saw the female grizzly charging at them down the trail, according to an account issued by park officials.

The couple began running, but the bear caught up to them and mauled the husband, then approached the wife, who had fallen to the ground nearby.

“The bear bit her daypack, lifting her from the ground and then dropping her,” the park statement said, but the woman remained still and the grizzly lumbered off.

Yellowstone and surrounding areas are home at least 600 grizzlies. Once rare to behold, grizzlies have become an almost routine cause of curious tourists lining up at Yellowstone’s roadsides at the height of summer season.

These tourists have been flooding into Yellowstone in record numbers: 3.6 million last year, up 10 percent from 2009’s 3.3 million, also a record.

It was the park’s first fatal grizzly mauling since 1986, but the third in the Yellowstone region in just over a year amid ever-growing numbers of grizzlies and tourists roaming the same wild landscape of scalding-hot geysers and sweeping mountain vistas.

Officials also issued recommendations for visitors to stay safe from backcountry bears:

  • Stay on designated trails
  • Hike in groups of three or more
  • Make noise in places where a grizzly could be lurking

Bear spray—pressurized hot-pepper residue in a can—can be effective in stopping aggressive bears, they said.

Bears in Canada

Grizzly bears have a distinctive muscular shoulder hump, and the claws on the front paws are large, strong and slightly curved. (Credit:

Canada is home to approximately 380,000 black bears and 26,000 grizzly bears, half of whom are found in British Columbia, according to the Nature Conservacy of Canada.

Avoid Bear Attacks

To avoid unwanted encounters with bears adhere to the following precautions:

  • Obey all park regulations, stay on designated trails, and comply with posted warnings
  • Solo hiking is not advised; the risk of an attack is reduced hiking in a group
  • Always keep children nearby and in sight
  • If possible, keep pets at home. Free-running pets can anger a bear and provoke an attack
  • Make warning noises and loud sounds, e.g., attach bells to hiking boots
  • Pepper/bear spray has been effective in deterring some bear attacks; however, do not rely on it as a substitute for safe practices in bear country

Bear Facts

  • Bears are as fast as racehorses, on the flats, uphill, or downhill
  • Bears aggressively defend their food
  • All female bears defend their cubs; if a female with cubs is surprised at close range or is separated from her cubs, she may attack
  • Bears are strong swimmers
  • Bears have good eyesight and hearing, and an acute sense of smell
  • All black bears and young grizzlies are agile tree climbers; mature grizzlies are poor climbers but they have a reach up to 13 feet
  • All bears will defend a personal space; the extent of this space will vary with each bear and each situation; intrusion into this space is considered a threat and may provoke an attack

Know Your Bears

Are you able to tell the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear? Color is a poor indicator of bear species as both species can range in color from blond to black.

Black bears are North America's most familiar and common bears. They typically live in forests and are excellent tree climbers, but are also found in mountains and swamps. Despite their name, black bears can be blue-gray or blue-black, brown, cinnamon, or even (very rarely) white. be blue-gray or blue-black, brown, cinnamon, or even (very rarely) white. (Credit:

Some unique grizzly features include a pronounced shoulder hump, silver or light-tipped guard hairs on their head, and ears that appear smaller and are rounded.

Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis Ord)

Color: Range in color from black to light blonde, mostly medium to dark brown in color; the long hair usually has a lighter tip, hence the grizzled look

Height: Approximately 3½ feet at shoulder; 6-7 feet when erect

Weight: Average 350-500 pounds; larger grizzlies can reach 800 pounds

Shape: Distinct shoulder hump

Face: Depression between the eyes and end of nose; short, round ears

Claws: Very long (2-4 inches)

Habitat: Prefers semi-open spaces; high country in late summer and early fall; valley bottoms late fall and spring

Black Bear (Ursus americanus Pallas)

Color: Range in color from black to light blonde, often with a lighter patch on the chest or at the throat; reddish-colored bears are common in the west

Height: Approximately 2½-3 feet at shoulder; about 5 feet when erect

Weight: Average 110-300 pounds; larger males can reach 600 pounds

Shape: No shoulder hump like the grizzly

Face: A straight line runs between the forehead and end of nose; roundish pointed ears

Claws: Shorter (about 1½ inches)

Habitat: Prefers forested areas with low-growing plants and berry-producing shrubs, small forest openings, streams, and lake edges

What to do if a Bear Attacks

Every encounter is unique and the following are offered as guidelines only to deal with an unpredictable animal and potentially complex situation.

Your response depends on the species and whether the bear is being defensive or offensive.

Bears sometimes bluff their way out of a confrontation by charging then turning away at the last moment. Generally, the response is to do nothing to threaten or further arouse the bear. Remain calm and avoid sudden movements.

Give the bear plenty of room, allowing it to continue its activities undisturbed. Remember that a standing bear is not always a sign of aggression. Many times, bears will stand to get a better view.

While fighting back usually increases the intensity of an attack, it may cause the bear to leave.

Note: This is the second of a two-part series on Bears and Bear Safety.

Previously posted: Are You Bear Aware?

Worth Pondering…
When a pine needle falls in the forest, the eagle sees it; the deer hears it, and the bear smells it.
—old First Nations saying

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