The wildlife in Alaska is vast and varied. Known as the “Last Frontier State,” it is one of the few places in the United States with large, untouched natural landscapes. While most outsiders think of endless snow and glaciers in this polar region, the state is home to two of the United States’ most extensive forests, which provide habitat for nearly 1,100 vertebrate species. In fact, Alaska’s designated wilderness acreage constitutes approximately 54 percent of the nation’s—making habitat for a vast diversity of species surviving in harsh conditions. Many of which can be particularly fearsome.
But which animal in Alaska is the most deadly to humans?
Moose, who are generally regarded as docile herbivores, injure around 5-10 people annually. Polar bears, whose girth during mating season can reach about 1700 pounds, are a deadly opponent on the icy tundra. Even the smaller gray wolf can become a lethal killing machine. These carnivores can take down a massive moose or bear in packs and organize into reconnaissance groups that canvass territory over 2,300 square miles.
However, if you find yourself in the Alaskan wilderness, there is one animal above all others you don’t want to cross paths with. And that’s the fierce and lethal grizzly bear.
Alaska has an estimated 30,000 grizzlies, the highest in any region of the U.S. Luckily for most visitors, the areas these bears habitat are usually far away from where humans live. Additionally, there are only a few seasons when grizzly bears are active and dangerous. However, when camping or hiking, it’s important to know your surroundings and bear behaviors. A few simple tools can save your life when encountering one of the most deadly animals in Alaska.
The grizzly bear is actually a type of brown bear. Coastal grizzly bears, Kodiak bears, and the Asian grizzly are considered to be the same subspecies. They range in color from very light tan to dark brown. The coloration gives them a “grizzled” look, especially in the sun. Additionally, they have a rounder face shape, short ears, and a large hump on their shoulder. This hump creates mass on the bear, making it much larger and more robust than black bears.
They can weigh up to 700 pounds (the same as a 20-foot Sailboat!), and in their native habitat, are often unafraid of humans (unlike black bears). This behavior often makes them one of the most deadly animals in Alaska.
According to the Alaskan Department of Natural Resources, the one thing you can predict about a grizzly bear is that it’s unpredictable. However, biologists have recently reduced confrontations thanks to a newly developed understanding of bear behavior. Mainly, it’s essential to respect the bears and where they live.
The worst incidents between bears and people occur when people misbehave toward them.
“I’ve seen people do stupid things to bears,” said John Hechtel, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist. “I’ve seen people throw rocks at a grazing bear from 2 feet away just to get a better picture.”
Hechtel suggested that 95 percent of the time, people determine whether the outcome of a bear encounter will be good or bad.
The fall and spring are when the bears are most active. If you accidentally encounter a grizzly bear during this time, you can do a few things to ensure your meeting ends well.
What you should do to protect yourself from grizzly bears:
Above all else, avoid the bears if you can by being aware of your surroundings.
Trailheads often post signs about bear activity. When in an area designated as “bear heavy,” look for tracks along the road and make plenty of noise so you don’t surprise one. Lastly, always travel in groups or with another person. Never go alone.
Although, don’t bring your dog, either.
Often, unwelcome incidents between wild animals and humans result from aggression between your pet and the animals. Humans get hurt when they intercede between their dogs and the animals. A dog’s instinct to protect their owner or curiosity between the bears and dogs has often escalated and become hazardous.
When camping, never leave food or garbage out. Use bear-proof cans or lockers when storing or throwing away leftovers. Odors attract bears, so be sure your camp is as clean and odor-free as possible.
Additionally, don’t camp near areas where bears are. This includes near a trail, salmon streams, dead animals, or old fire pits (which may have leftover food). Choose a spot where you can see wildlife, and they can easily see you. This can help you avoid one of the most deadly animals in Alaska.
When cooking, make sure you’re at least 100 feet away from your campsite. Cook downwind and store your pots and pans away from you. Cache the food you want in a tree and out of reach of any potential predators.
According to the National Park Service, this is what you should do if you encounter a bear:
If you see a grizzly bear and it hasn’t seen you—walk away. However, if the bear is close and notices you, it’s important to try to stay calm. Not disturbing the bear reduces attacks. Often, it helps to wave your arms and speak in a loud but low voice. While you should back away slowly if it starts approaching, it’s important NOT TO RUN.
A bluff charge may occur during your encounter. Almost all charges are bluffs. It’s important to stand your ground, as running will encourage it to chase you. Outrunning a bear is futile.
If you’re attacked, playing dead works. Curl up in a ball with your hands laced behind your neck. The fetal position will protect your vital organs. A surprised bear will grow disinterested.
Any attack resulting from a bear stalking or pursuing you, you’ll need to fight back. Predatory bears are often intimidated into leaving you alone. In these cases, carrying a weapon, such as bear spray or a knife, is best. However, almost all bear attacks can be avoided without violence. Just use common sense. Continuously reducing the probability of bear encounters is your best protection when dealing with one of the most deadly animals in Alaska.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Robert Frashure/Shutterstock.com
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