Useful Russian forest tips: How to survive meeting a bear

Marko König/Global Look Press
Bears usually try to avoid humans, but humans don’t always reciprocate, and we often invade their territory and upset them. Here’s how to avoid surprising a bear or provoking its defensive reaction.

Contrary to popular belief, you won’t bump into a bear on the streets of Moscow. If you really want to see one, then go to a dense forest far from the cities. It might take a while to find a bear, however. They’re very cautious creatures and will probably see you first and go away. But if a ‘meeting’ does take place, then it probably won’t be pleasant for either of you!

Recently, a man was killed while hunting in Russia’s Sakhalin Region – so don’t think meeting a bear is fun and that he’ll gladly pose with you for a selfie. To avoid unnecessary risks, remember these safety tips from Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry:

  • Set camp away from bear paths, which look like two parallel shallow pits 20 centimeters from each other.
  • Go with friends. Noise from large groups keeps bears at a distance.
  • Dispose of all food waste because it might attract a bear’s interest.
  • At your camp or while moving through the woods, make your presence known by being noisy. You can also attach a bell to your backpack. A bear is very cautious and won’t approach you if it can go somewhere else.
  • Avoid places where a bear can potentially hunt, most importantly along riverbanks in the morning, early evening and nights.

If you bump into a bear, here’s a list of things to keep in mind in order to stay alive.

  1. Don’t panic. If a bear doesn’t see you, try to leave without attracting attention. The closer you are when it sees you, the greater the risk of his defensive reaction. If the bear saw you, it’s most likely afraid of you. Usually, animals attack when they are hurt, frightened or protecting their cubs. If a bear doesn’t show signs of aggression just give it a chance to leave.
  2. If a bear seems aggressive, don’t try to run. Bears only look sluggish, but in fact they can run 60 km/hour, so you won’t be able to outrun it. They are also good at climbing trees, so trying to hide from a bear in a tree isn’t a good option either. Just stand where you are and don’t make any sudden movements.
  3. If a bear stands up, don’t worry – this usually just means it’s curious to know who you are. If a bear protrudes the lower lip and makes aggressive steps in your direction, he wants you to leave. Move back diagonally and as slowly as you can. Don’t turn your back - always face a bear. If it tries to follow you, stop and stand steadfast.
  4. Avoid making eye contact – in the animal world this means aggression. Speak calmly and confidently.
  5. If a bear doesn’t let you leave and prepares to attack, you can try to scare it by making your voice louder, whistle hard or loudly clapping. This unexpected behavior might convince the bear to leave.
  6. If you are with a group don’t get separated and move in different directions. Stick together and make noise – this might scare off the animal.
  7. The most dangerous situation is encountering a mother bear with her cubs. The little ones are very curious and might try to follow you. If the cubs see you, just go somewhere so they can’t follow. By doing so you’ll avoid meeting their mom who is likely to be nearby. Don’t try to pet a cub, play with it or take a picture!
  8. If a bear attacks, pretend to be dead - lay face to the ground, hands on your neck. This will let the bear know you don’t represent a threat and it might go away. Just make sure you remain in this position for 20 minutes or so – a bear might stick around to see if you’re dead or just pretending.

Read more:

Winter, bears and danger: 3 popular myths about Siberia

How do Russians survive in extreme polar conditions?

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