Spruce woods “supposedly” has all kinds of wildlife that could be a hazard if encountered. There’s supposed to be bears, snakes, coyotes and maybe even cougars. In all honesty we’ve never seen any of them and it is unsure if many people who enjoy the park have. Wildlife in the area tends to be afraid of humans.
The odds of encountering anything is pretty low, but it’s important to know what to do just in case:
Hognose Snake :
The Hognose Snake is not poisonous, but will strike if harassed. It is more likely to play dead until you leave the area. Look for it around the edges of the sand dunes.
Bear attacks are extremely rare. Between 1900 and 2009, there have been a grand total of 63 fatal black bear attacks in all of North America. Stalking, predatory attacks are more frequent than threatened or defensive attacks. In spite of thousands of encounters between people and bears, there have only been three (3) black bear-inflicted deaths in Manitoba… since record keeping began! All three have been the result of stalking, predatory attacks.
Approaches by black bears towards people are very rare, but each encounter is unique. Bears are unique individuals just like humans. What works in one instance may not work in another.
Here is what experts recommend:
- Stop, remain calm, assess the situation. Try to observe the bear’s behaviour before you act.
- Never approach or crowd a bear.
- Never, ever feed it!
- Never run unless reaching safety is a guarantee! Fleeing may trigger a chase response. Bears can reach bursts of speed of 50 km/hr (30 m/hr) and can outrun a person going up or downhill.
- Climbing a tree or entering water is no guarantee of safety. Black bears are superior climbers and stronger swimmers.
- Standing on its hind legs is seldom a precursor to an attack. The bear is trying to get a better look or smell at something it’s uncertain of.
- If you are near a building or car, get inside.
- If a bear is in a tree – leave it alone and vacate the area.
If a bear is not aware of you:
- Move away quietly when the bear is not looking toward you. Keep your eye on the bear, but do not make direct eye contact because the gaze may be interpreted as a challenge.
If a bear is aware of you:
• Let it know you are human. Talk to the bear in a low tone of voice and wave your arms slowly while moving away upwind, if practical, to give the bear your scent.
You should learn to recognize types of bear behaviour and react accordingly. Bears will display three types of behaviour. These tips will help you assess the situation and stay safe.
1. Threatened (Defensive) Bear
A bear that feels threatened will often display signs of agitation and stress through vocal and/or visual cues such as huffing, popping of the jaws, pacing, swinging of the head or excessive salivation. This may escalate to slapping the ground or a tree, or to a bluff charge, stopping short of contact. The head will be lowered with ears drawn back while facing you. This behaviour is associated with defensive bears.
If a threatened bear charges
- Stand your ground, be non-threatening.
- Talk to the bear in a calm voice.
- When the bear has moved off, proceed on your way.
If a threatened bear makes contact with you
- Fall to the ground laying face down with legs slightly apart.
- Lock your fingers behind your head/neck.
- If the bear flips you over, roll back onto your stomach.
- Do not struggle or cry out if you can.
- Do not move until you are sure the bear has left.
- If the attack lasts more than several minutes, the bear is not attacking defensively anymore. Fight back – use a hunting knife, rocks, sticks or any other available weapon.
2. Non-threatening Bear
If a bear approaches in a non-threatening manner, it may be curious, used to people, after your food, wanting right of way, or to assert dominance.
If a non-threatening bear approaches you
- Stop and remain calm. Talk to the bear in a firm voice. Assess the situation.
- Do not turn and run unless reaching safety is a guarantee.
- Group together.
- Be ready to use a deterrent, such as bear pepper spray, a hunting knife or a really loud sound (bear banger, air horn, whistle).
- Stand your ground until the bear leaves the area.
3. Stalking (Predatory) Bear
A stalking bear’s approach will be deliberate and silent. This bear is the type you should be most concerned with. The head will be up and ears erect, displaying no signs of stress. This behaviour is associated with predatory bears.
If a stalking bear continues to follow you:
- If a stalking bear attacks you stop and stand your ground.
- Make direct eye contact.
- Act aggressively to persuade the bear you are not easy prey.
- Shout, wave your arms, stomp your feet.
- Elevate yourself onto a log or rock and raise your jacket to look bigger.
- If within range, use your bear pepper spray.
- Fight back with anything at hand. Ie: sticks, knife, rocks, binoculars, keys, bare hands!
- Kick and yell. Strike for the bear’s eyes or nose.
- Be relentless, you are fighting for your life!
There is evidence of both of these types of animals are living in the Spruce Woods area. It is believed that cougars from the Dakotas have moved north using the river corridors that connect with Manitoba. Sightings in Manitoba are extremely rare (maybe 1-2 every year). They have obviously learned how to live amongst humans without being seen and they will continue to do so.