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Bear Attack Statistics

Flathead Bear Aware posted “In fact, more people are killed by black bears.”  The statement  brings the opportunity for statistics – and there are a couple of sources easily available for checking the statement. 

From a statistical perspective, fatalities are a more solid measure than attacks.  Five years ago, I listened to a man telling of an aggressive black bear that he had shot – yet I had encountered the same bear possibly an hour earlier, and not seen any threatening behavior.  Did the bear’s behavior change?  Was it just that there is a difference in the observer?  I don’t have a solid answer, but my suspicion is that some folks tend to see aggressive behavior where it isn’t.  Bodies however, whether the killer is a bear or a human, aren’t subject to interpreting behavior.  Dead is dead. 

My first source of data on bear fatalities is at blog.batchgeo.com/bear-attack-statistics/

It includes polar bears, as well as brown and black bears.  I’m making the assumption that geography ties in with bear attacks – my demography influenced guess is that there are very few people who live in polar bear range, more people who live in brown bear range, and that most of the United States population live in black bear range.  The map suggests the same idea – and the brown bear attacks it shows in California probably did not occur in recent memory.

The blog shows 11 fatal polar bear attacks, 82 fatal black bear attacks, and 90 fatal brown bear attacks.  This data probably doesn’t negate the Flathead Bear Aware claim – a glance at the map shows six or seven grizzly attacks in California – and one of the things that can make statistics unreliable is covering different time spans.

So my next data source is wikipedia.org

Wikipedia isn’t a perfect source – but in this case it does seem to be more up-to-date than more official sources might be. 

Wiki shows 6 fatal black bear attacks and 6 fatal brown bear attacks since January 1, 2020.  Apparently, David Lertzman was killed twice while jogging in Alberta on May 4 of this year, once by a black bear and once by “a bear, determined to be a female brown bear, while out jogging. The bear is suspected to have attacked Lertzman from behind, sending him off a 300m embankment.”  Well, knocking someone off a thousand foot cliff isn’t a typical bear attack, and I suppose a jogger might match a grizzly’s definition of fast food.  So the 2020’s count is 5 black bear fatal attacks to six browns.

2010 through 2019 show 11 fatal black bear attacks and 17 fatal brown bear attacks along with two fatal polar bear attacks (both at Nunavit).  One of the black bear fatalities was listed as a “captive” bear. 

2000 through 2009 lists 16 fatal black bear attacks and 12 fatal brown bear attacks.  It is probably worth noting that Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend are included in the dozen brown bear attacks.  Wiki’s listings go back to 1784 and confirm that the most recent California fatality was in 1875.

Bear Attack Statistics of North America includes a chart showing fatal attacks by month:

January3
February1
March1
April4
May17
June22
July28
August32
September28
October28
November12
December4  

Their conclusion: “The summer months are chock full of fatal bear attacks, though it does make sense that most attacks occur when both bears and humans are spending an increased amount of time outdoors. It’s also logical that attacks slow down in November as it nears the time for hibernation. 

We learned brown bears cause the most fatalities, particularly those near Glacier National Park or Yellowstone that are out and about in August. And we saw those trends clearly when we looked at a map.”  Personally, I get a bit more nervous around grizzlies than black bears.

The websites are worth visiting if the topic of bear attacks interests you.

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