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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bear and cougar awareness information session answered many questions

Toni Lucas - Alberta Parks Conservation Officer Matias Voramwald gave a lecture about back country safety on Wednesday, June 26 in the Provincial Building on Main Street Pincher Creek.  The lecture was called Bear and Cougar Awareness, and drew a diverse group of people.

One woman admitted that she was afraid of encountering a bear and did not want her daughter to grow up with the same fears, so they were both there to learn more.  Some attendees were experienced with wild animals, some were not.  They were all there to learn more.

The information session was filled with facts about how to identify grizzly and black bears, and cougars if you do see an animal.  It also covered how to identify tracks and scat if you think an animal is nearby, as well as a host of other information.

Voramwald covered the differences between defensive and predatory attacks from bears.  The difference is important, as the way you react can diffuse or escalate conflict between you and the animal.  If you are facing a defensive bear, you want to make yourself as non-threatening to the animal as possible.  If the bear sees you as a threat against whatever the bear is protecting, be that food, territory or cubs, things could escalate quickly. He suggested that if a bear doesn't appear to have noticed you, back away, being aware of the bear, and not making eye contact.  If it has noticed you, do the same while making soothing noises.

"There are usually no defensive attacks with cougars," said Voramwald who explained that cougars are primarily a predatory animal.  During a predatory attack the animal is considering that you may be food.  "You want to do everything you can to convince that animal that you're not a food source," This included eye contact, being loud, making yourself appear larger and not taking your eyes off the animal until you've reached safety.

The talk included suggestions to develop habits to make yourself safer while in the back country.  "Awareness is key," said Vormwald.  Making noise tends to be the best deterrent as the animal can hear you coming and you don't startle it.  Often it will leave before you ever see it.  He also suggested bear spray, bear bangers, and bear screamers.  All of these deterrents also work on cougars.

Voramwald recommended that the Pincher Creek Municipal Library has an excellent resource called 'Staying Safe in Bear Country', and said that the SRD website was filled with excellent resources to educate people further.

Related link:  Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
Related story:  Seminar focuses on Bear and Cougar awareness

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