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Patterns of Bear Attacks on Humans, Factors Triggering Risky Scenarios, and How to Reduce Them

Introduction

The media and scientific literature are increasingly reporting an escalation of large carnivore attacks on humans, mainly in the so-called developed countries, such as Europe and North America (Penteriani et al. 2016; Bombieri et al. 2018a). Although large carnivore populations have generally increased in developed countries (Chapron et al. 2014), increased numbers are not solely responsible for the observed rise in
the number of attacks. For example, recent research has shown that people frequently engage in risk-enhancing behaviors that can increase the probability of a risky encounter and a potential attack, and perhaps even alter carnivore behavior (Penteriani et al. 2016, 2017; Garrote et al. 2017).

Of the eight bear species inhabiting the world, two (i.e. the Andean bear and the giant panda) have never, or very rarely, been reported to attack humans, whereas the other six species have: sun bears Helarctos malayanus, sloth bears Melursus ursinus, Asiatic black bears Ursus thibetanus, American black bears Ursus americanus, brown bears Ursus arctos, and polar bears Ursus maritimus. These species occur across four continents (Asia, Europe, North and South America) characterized by a huge range of social and cultural practices, e.g. from increasing leisure activities in bear areas in developed countries to daily forest works in developing countries. Such differences in the use of bear habitats by people may determine that different scenarios trigger bear attacks on humans around the world. However, even if the motivations that determine human presence in bear countries and risky encounters with bears are diverse, some triggering factors might be common in activating bears’ dangerous reactions toward people, e.g. inappropriate human behaviors when sharing the landscape with bears or when encountering them at close range.

This chapter provides insights into the causes, and as a result the prevention, of bear attacks on people. Prevention and information that can encourage appropriate human behavior when sharing the landscape with bears are of paramount importance to reduce both potentially fatal human–bear encounters and their consequences to bear conservation.