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2020. április 22.

Bear your distance

Brown bear sightings in Northern Hungary, highlight the importance of safety and preparedness

By Andreas Candido

As the positive effects of conservation continue to be highlighted through increased sights of carnivorous species in the Carpathian mountains, we are once more able to bring more good news on this front. A brown bear family (mother and two pups) are living in the Mátra mountains in the Northern Hungarian mountain range. The sighting was announced by HEOL (a Hungarian news outlet) and confirmed by the National Park Directorate. The experts at the Bükk mountain range said that sightings like these are no longer a surprise for Northern Hungary. You can see the small cubs, which were caught on a trap camera here.

While this exciting sighting is another important notch on the belt for conservation, it also presents a chance to raise some important points about bear safety. The internet is fraught with inaccurate myths and misconceptions, including on what to do when someone encounters a bear, which is one reason there are officially 40 global bear attacks a year (and countless unreported attacks).

(Don’t!) Take the bear by the tooth

Bear encounters are rare and if you are aware and prepared, you can minimise the risk of a bad encounter, should you come across one. Obviously, it is very important to not lure the bear to yourself in any way. For example, in areas with large carnivores, waste should be tightly closed and put away where possible, so that it does not become a potential food source.

Bears’ eyesight isn’t very strong, so individuals coming up close or on two legs may just be trying to see better — “may” being the keyword, just in case.

Bears in the wild are often just as frightened of you as you are of them. Brown bears, like those spotted in Hungary, are especially known to avoid humans when possible. They only show aggression when they are defending cubs or are feeling threatened. Needless to say, this should not be an invitation to befriend cubs or bears, as they should be avoided altogether. Alerting potential bears to your presence in the wild, by making lots of noise (e.g. whistling) and traveling in large groups is a good way to avoid surprise bear encounters.  

If you do encounter a bear do not try to chase it away or even alert it of your presence, if it has not seen you. Instead, moving away quickly and quietly from the area is the best course of action. Bears are often attracted to food, so leave all sources of it behind.

If all this advice has thus far failed you and you now find yourself encountering a bear approaching you, don’t panic there are still several steps you can take. Avoid looking directly in their eyes, as this can provoke an aggressive response, and try to move away from the area without turning your back. Finally, if it comes up close, stay calm and still, as sudden movements may startle and provoke the bear. And if it wasn’t obvious, don’t take a selfie with a close-up bear….