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Alaska wildlife, animals in Alaska

Do Grizzly Bears Eat People?

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A grizzly bear mother with cubs walks around the guest cabins of Brooks Lodge in Katmai National Park.

Humans safely walk with bears all summer long in Brooks Falls.

 

There is a fundamental misconception about predator species that creates a false sense of fear.  Most people confuse being a predator species with being predatory towards humans.  Predators often have a greater physical potential to harm, injure or kill humans - sharp claws, carnivore teeth, large body size.  But the key word here is "potential".  Just because an animal has the physical potential to harm a human does not mean that it actually does harm humans.

Many horses are as large as a bear, and if they were to turn violent they could charge, stomp, kick and bite you to death.  But we don't ever think - run for your life! - when we see a horse.  Wild peccaries, which were quite common where I lived in AZ, have the longest teeth of any carnivore in the Americas.  Yet most Arizonans don't think twice about javelina, or arm themselves, when tromping around the desert in the dark.  These are clear examples of how our perception about the physical potential of an animal is about a lot more than just its physical presence.

 

Guided groups safely observe grizzly bears up close every year in Katmai National Park, Alaska

 

Most predators have never used humans as a food source, and no predators have had humans as their primary food source.  What this means, quite simply, is that predators do not see humans as food.  Let's look at a simple example about predator diet using North American humans (yes, humans are classified as a predator species).  Many North American humans eat meat such as chickens, pigs, cows, and turkeys.  We are also surrounded in our every day lives by lots of other examples of potentially edible meat - pigeons, dogs, cats, ravens, rats, parakeets, hamsters.  But since these types of animals are not our typical food sources (we were not fed these animals as children, we have never tasted this animal, we have never seen any other humans eating these animals), we do not kill and consume them just because they are in our presence.  Well, bears and other predators act the same way.  All predators kill and eat the foods that they know, that they are familiar with, that they have had success hunting in the past, that they have tasted before.  The mere presence of a human does not mean that a bear will decide to eat humans.  Although ridiculous movies like The Edge would have you believe otherwise, bears are not predatory towards humans.

 

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Bears and humans safely share the beach every day at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park.

 

Let's look at another example, which shows the arbitrary way we harbor fear towards particular animals.  Imagine that you are stranded, alone, unarmed, in the African bush at night.  What animal comes to mind as being the most likely to attack and kill you?  Lions?  Hyenas?  Crocodiles maybe?  I bet, however, that you did not think Hippopotamus.  Yes, you are actually statistically more likely to be killed in Africa by a Hippo than a lion.  The fact that our minds go immediately to typical predator species shows quite clearly that our fears towards particular animals are not rooted in facts and truth.  So what is it about bears exactly that makes everyone so scared?  As the bear attack statistics page clearly shows, it is not about facts.  The short answer to such a huge topic is that the cultural construction of "bears" creates a false sense of fear.  In other words, the stories that we tell about bears as a culture - through movies, books, magazines, hunting lore, and science - teach us to fear bears even though this fear is not based on reality.  

 

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In Brooks Falls in Katmai hundreds of tourists a day safely view grizzly bears

 

It isn't entirely unreasonable to unconsciously fear bears because there is so much misinformation out there and there is also a certain sense of vulnerability and discomfort with thinking about being eaten by an animal, no matter how remote the possibility.  We live in a very fear based culture, so for most people fear easily takes over for reason.  And although extremely rare, bears have eaten people before. That "potential" does, however uncommon, exist.  This is why we take every safety precaution possible when being around bears in Katmai National Park, such as carrying marine flares and camping behind an electric fence.  But also fundamental is the fact that as a culture we tend to deflect attention from the real violence in our society by focusing on unreal violence.  Fear of monsters lurking in the dark replaces, hides, and obfuscates the fact that most violence occurs inside our homes, and the perpetrators are most often our family members and friends.  As a culture we have not yet been able to accept and hence finally start preventing the epidemic levels of rape, molestation, and physical and emotional abuse that occurs inside the home - because this is the true majority of all violence inflicted upon humans.

Another important thing to note is that the hunting culture, economy and establishment also has a vested interest in maintaining the illusion that bears are dangerous man-eaters.  If an animal is no longer scary and threatening it is no longer powerful to kill them - in fact it is a demonstration of weakness. Masculinity can no longer be defined by the killing of a dangerous animal when we realize that this animal is not in fact dangerous.  When people realize that the elderly and children walk easily amongst grizzly bears it starts to seem really pathetic to hunt them.  Help us put these misconceptions behind us as a culture by sharing this website with others.

 

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This is the road that tourists walk on to reach the waterfalls in Brooks Falls, Katmai.

Bears and hundreds of humans a day safely share the same roads and trails in Katmai National Park.  

 

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