In an encounter that over 2.4 million people have watched, a persistent black bear follows a family of hikers as they try to deter it to no avail.
When travel guide Brighton Peachy and her family set out to hike the Whistler wilderness, the last thing they expected was to be followed for miles by a black bear. But as it turns out, this particular bruin is a consistent problem for the popular Canadian destination.
“We later learned they’ve had to close this area multiple times because of this bears increasing aggressive behavior,” Brighton begins of the encounter. “This was scarier than the time I was mock charged by a bear, because I had my kids with me and felt helpless.”
As her footage clearly shows, “The bear was not intimidated by us at all. He just kept following us. At first we thought we were just in the way of the direction he was headed, but then we started to wonder if he was stalking us.”
“Okay, he’s following you, babe,” Brighton shouts to her husband as he holds the hand of one of their toddlers and carries the other via backpack. “Hey bear!” she calls out loudly to the persistent black bear. “Do not run,” she tells her family.
It’s perfect advice, as her husband and 6-year-old don’t immediately associate the situation with danger. But dangerous it is, as black bear attacks are becoming far more frequent as habituation escalates in recent years.
Persistent Black Bear Encounter Highlights Importance of ‘BearWise’ Safety and Preventing Habituation
“My 6-year-old is a little too comfortable outdoors and wasn’t taking the situation seriously,” Brighton cites of his enthusiastic response to the bear.
As the situation escalates, Brighton and her husband pick up their son, pull out their bear spray, and stand their ground while shouting as loudly as they can, waving their arms in tandem. This is all directly in line with what wildlife experts advise and teach (including this Outsider) to do in this situation.
What their small son asks, however, is not. “Can we play dead yet?” the little one asks repeatedly. Someone gave him the wrong advice. Whenever confronted by a black bear, experts will advise you to fight back as hard as you can. Never play dead.
“We finally came upon other hikers, and when we alerted them, they didn’t know what to do,” Brighton notes. And as her family’s footage illustrates, this knowledge is imperative in any bear country.
What to Do in a Black Bear Encounter
To avoid black bear encounters, follow the BearWise steps developed by bear biologists across America and adopted by the National Park Service. But following expert advice does not always mean you won’t have a persistent bear approach you anyway. So what do you do if you come upon one, or one comes upon you?
“If a bear is following you on a trail, for example, and you see it first – the first thing to do is to give it its right-of-way,” explained Great Smoky Mountains National Park‘s Lead Wildlife Biologist, Bill Stiver, to me in our recent interview. “And hopefully it’ll go along its way. If it doesn’t, then you stand your ground, wave your arms and make yourself look big and threatening.”
The Brighton family had these steps on lockdown. And yet the bear continued to pursue. So what next?
If a bear is particularly aggressive, Bill says to “throw something at the bear while yelling and screaming.” If the bear backs off, you do the same, and leave the area immediately.
But everyone always wants to know what to do in the event of an actual black bear attack. In this case, which Bill describes as the ‘worst case scenario,’ “If a black bear truly attacks you, you fight back. Attacks are typically offensive and predatory in nature. And so you always fight back to try and get that animal off of you.”
For more imperative BearWise safety, see our National Parks Journal: How to Be BearWise with Great Smoky Mountains’ Lead Wildlife Biologist next.