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Encounter with bear prompts warning from Yellowstone park officials


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Courtesy Kenneth Carothers

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Montana – After a tourist’s recent encounter with a bear in Yellowstone National Park, park officials want to make sure park visitors know what to do if they find themselves in a similar situation.

Linda Veress, a spokesperson for Yellowstone National Park, tells a bear stood and put its paws on a vehicle in the Tower-Roosevelt area last Saturday. Veress says it’s important for drivers to try and prevent this behavior.

“The best thing to do is discourage a bear from approaching the vehicle. Never feed the bear or throw food out of the car toward the bear,” Veress says.

If you see a bear approaching your vehicle, immediately roll up your window, honk your horn and drive away.

A similar incident occurred in May last year. A black bear previously fed by people in the Mammoth Hot Springs area approached a vehicle, put its paws on a door and looked into the vehicle’s windows. The same month, a grizzly bear near Yellowstone Lake went up to a car and played with its antenna.

Bears that grow accustomed to people and view humans as a food source can become aggressive and have to be killed, Veress says.

Here are some other helpful tips if you ever encounter a bear:

  • If a bear doesn’t see you, keep out of sight and detour as far as possible behind and downwind of the bear. If the bear sees you, retreat slowly and leave the area.
  • If the bear clacks its teeth, sticks out its lips, huffs, woofs, or slaps the ground with its paws, it is warning you that you are too close and are making it nervous. Heed this warning and slowly back away. Do not drop to the ground and “play dead.” Do not run, shout, or make sudden movements. Running may trigger a chase response in the bear.
  • Slowly putting distance between yourself and the bear may defuse the situation. Use bear spray if the bear charges.
  • Don’t climb a tree. Bears can climb trees, especially if there is something up the tree that the bear wants. Climbing a tree may provoke a bear to chase you.
  • If a bear charges you after a surprise encounter, stay still and stand your ground. Most of the time, the bear is likely to break off the charge or veer away. If you run, you’re likely to trigger a chase response from the bear. If you have bear spray, this is the time to use it. Start spraying the charging bear when it is about 60 feet away or less.

The overwhelming majority of bear encounters do not involve conflict. There is an average of one bear attack per year in Yellowstone, according to the parks’ website. In separate incidents in 2011 and 2015, three people were killed by bears inside the park.

RELATED: Biologists will begin capturing grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park next week

Biologists began capturing grizzly bears in the park this week to monitor the population. None of the trap sites in the park will be located near any established hiking trails or backcountry campsites, and all trap sites will have posted warnings. Backcountry users who come upon any of these posted areas need to heed the warnings and stay out of the area.

For more safety tips about bear or other wildlife encounters, click here.