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Reminder: Bears Are Not Your Friends, Never Will Be

They’ll rip your face off. Every last one of them.

Fuck bears. I’m kidding—you can’t have sex with a bear, because it will eat you. No, I know what you’re going to say: Bears are cute, especially the small ones. It’s comical when a bear gets into, say, a grocery store and starts rooting around in the produce section. Bear prints look good on sweaters and T-shirts. Just check out the California state flag! How bad can they be if a whole state (the best state) put ’em on the flag.

But you have been fed a steady diet of bear propaganda, and all you need is to read the actual news to find out what bears are really up to: Trying to maul us. After they bat us around for a while. Then eat us.

Case in point: A few mountain bikers became acquainted with the bear’s true identity when biking on a trail in Slovakia. As they round the trail, a murder bear (there is no other kind of bear) starts bounding toward the lead guy, who only barely misses the death embrace of this lovable monster with razor-sharp claws, huge teeth and the conscience of a virus, because he is on a manmade contraption that goes faster than the bear.

“Hey, hold up, thought maybe we could hang out!” the bear was probably trying to say.

“While bears are very intimidating, they are actually quite gentle animals,” someone actually wrote on a site that covers the black bear. “I have read and heard many stories of bear/human interactions, which could almost always be traced back to improper storage of food or bears being fed by people.”

See, but where I come from, leaving out food or offering it to strangers is called hospitality, not grounds for murder.

“One saying that many rangers tell to park visitors is ‘A fed bear is a dead bear,’” the site goes on. Yes, but one saying rangers should add to the repertoire is that every human near a bear is also a potentially dead human. Every human near a bear is therefore Schrödinger’s human — alive and dead at the same time — until the bear is the fuck outta the way.

You want science? Daniel Kolitz at Deadspin, writing as part of the site’s ongoing bear coverage, talked to people who study bears and know them as intimately as you can without being dead yet, to find out. “Can you be friends with a bear?” he asks—rhetorically, because no one is, has been, or ever will be friends with a bear.

The answer? Absolutely fucking not. “More or less all agree that every bear is a wild bear — that even if it playfully nuzzles you, or spends 20 years riding a tiny bicycle in your traveling circus, the odds of it suddenly mauling and/or eating you alive remain high,” Kolitz confirms, winning my heart.

But this doesn’t reassure me. The bigger problem I have with bears is that even though they don’t kill us a lot (only about three times a year), no one really knows exactly what to do to stop a bear attack when it happens. What will stop one bear from murdering you won’t work on another bear. The advice for what to do if you find yourself in front of a bear is not intuitive, either, and I suspect that’s exactly how the bears want it.

“There’s no tried-and-true, written-in-stone protocol for handling a bear attack, in part because attacks are so rare,” this guide at Business Insider from a retired Navy Seal admits boldly. “So it’s no surprise to find debate among bear-country dwellers about how to handle a grizzly charge versus an encounter with a black bear. Some say that playing dead is more likely to work with the former, claiming that the latter’s less frequent attacks are more likely to be offensive.”

Not helping matters is that before you can even fight or not fight your bear attacker, you have to actually be able to identify the bear. This is like figuring out if your mugger is going to really kill you before deciding whether to run or stab him. Get big and make a lot of noise to deal with a black bear, but play dead with a brown bear. Unless, of course, this is the odd brown bear that thinks it’s a black bear, and then playing dead won’t work: You have to go hand-to-hand combat. Trick is, you won’t know until you try the wrong thing and now you’re dead.

Examples from the piece:

  • Don’t go around a female bear (no idea how you’d know if it was male or female, though).
  • If you see a bear, be quiet.
  • If you see a bear, clap and make a lot of noise.
  • Travel in groups because bears don’t attack groups.
  • If you see a bear, make yourself really big and wave your arms around screaming.
  • If you are unarmed when a bear approaches, stand really still. (THE BEAR COULD BE TESTING YOU.)
  • If a bear attacks you, play dead (75 percent success rate).
  • If a bear attacks, start kicking it in the eyes and nose using any weapons nearby.
  • Never turn your back or try to outrun a bear.

Recall now that the two dudes on the bikes escaped the bear by turning their backs and outrunning it. If you would like to be more confused about what has worked and has not worked in bear survival, read the entire Wikipedia entry on fatal bear attacks in North America.

Though bears have never done anything good historically, I don’t wish them ill; I only wish them to remain at a great distance. I have tried, in the interest of parity, to find some good bear news. Here it is: Sometimes bears wave back at people when the people wave at them. But my theory is that they are just trying to get you to let your guard down and come closer so they can murder you and up their human body count.

In the interest of even greater parity, let’s at least list some good qualities about bears, according to the Bear Smart Society. They’re intelligent, social, and have excellent memories, which means they are good at murdering, good at talking about who they’ve murdered, and good at remembering everyone they’ve ever murdered.

To be fair, bears do sound like they have warm personalities. The Bear Smart Society claims that they are “affectionate, protective, devoted, strict, sensitive and attentive with their young. Not unlike people, bears can be empathetic, fearful, joyful, playful, social and even altruistic. They’re all individuals and have unique personalities.”

I’m happy for bears, but that doesn’t mean we should be spending any time with them. If you actually need a documentary to tell you why, here’s one. Grizzly Man, about a guy, and eventually his girlfriend, who spent over a decade hanging out with a bear, convincing a lot of people that bears and humans could be tight buds. Spoiler: The bear murders them. And eats them. It might have taken 13 years — making it the longest bear-con in history — but the bear still got it done.

In short, bears probably are really wonderful. To each other. Just not to us.