The unfortunate encounter between two Yellowstone National Park hikers who “did everything right” and a grizzly bear who was just “protecting her cubs” ended in the death of one of the hikers. That’s sad. But the Park Service is probably right in its decision to not destroy the bear in question, since its behavior marks the attack as defensive.
Officials called it a ‘one in three million’ occurrence. Literally. It turns out that 3.6 million people visit Yellowstone each year, so let’s hope this is the only one. The Christian Science Monitor pointed out that bear population numbers and the number of park visitors are both on the upswing. Unexpected meetings are bound to increase. Two people were killed by bears near Yellowstone last year.
How can we adapt to defuse these dangerous situations?
The married couple spotted the bear and her cubs and retreated. They turned their backs on the animals and continued down the path the way they had come. When they checked to see the bears reaction, she was already charging them.
Clearly the hikers’ actions in this case were not enough to get the bear to see that they intended no threat. What part of “backing down the trail” don’t you understand? All of it, I suppose. Wild grizzlies just aren’t attuned to the signals we send. I think I would have done exactly the same thing as these two hikers did, probably with the same results.
The man who was killed told his wife to run when the bear charged them, but park rangers say it was her decision to play dead that probably saved her life. The bear attacked the man first, inflicted the fatal wounds, then turned its attention to the woman, picking her up by her backpack before dropping her and leaving.
She must have done a convincing job, though I can only imagine being crazy with fear in that situation. How does a person stay still and limp while being picked up by a grizzly? But with a bear that’s able to run 35 miles per hour, this may be the only reasonable reaction to a defensive attack.
And yet playing dead is not a natural behavior for humans, nor is it something we teach in our schools. Too bad. There’s another important skill that has been sacrificed to our obsession with reading and math.
Still, as Tim Pawlenty would tell us, if you can find it on Google then the government doesn’t need to do it. And wouldn’t you know – there is a small but earnest “how to play dead” industry online.
The best advice I’ve seen so far has to do with breathing – you should do it, but not too much. Also:
* When people die, they do not always have tongue sticking out one corner of their mouth. Try to avoid it.
* Do not smile, even if the people around you are laughing and saying stupid things.
Yes, smiling is a dead giveaway for any ‘playing dead’ player. We all know the dead have nothing to grin about, and do not generally ‘get’ punch lines, even obvious ones.
Perhaps we will, through brutal experience, develop this survival strategy until we are on par with the wily possum. But how many millions of years will it take before evolution gives us a grizzly who will charge you, pick you up and drop you, then tell a good one-liner, just to make sure?
Do you know a joke that’s guaranteed to get a laugh?