Connecticut media reports of a hiker attacked by a bear that was seized on by state legislators looking to promote a bear hunt were astoundingly inaccurate. A police report of the incident obtained by Friends of Animals through a Freedom of Information Act request shows the bear was as afraid, if not more, of seeing the hiker as the hiker was of seeing the bear. The bear didn’t knock the hiker over, the hiker fell, and the bear took most of the pummeling.
The report, and comments by the hiker himself, show the encounter was not at all about a bear run amok. The hiker said in a Danbury News Times story that the encounter was “not an attack, but an incidental and isolated interaction — provoked by a mix of unlucky circumstances and my personal lack of knowledge about dealing with local wildlife in surprise close-quarters engagement.”
Kudos to the hiker for setting the record straight.
Yet, before he did, the media ran amok, and despite not having looked at the police report, or talked with the hiker, television stations and newspapers across that the state headlined the incident as an attack, provoking fear among residents. Not surprisingly, CT State Senator Craig Miner, who has been chomping at the bit to shoot bears, moved swiftly to use the incident to call for a hunt.
But here’s what really happened, according to the report:
The hiker was walking on the Paugussett Trail in Newtown when he spotted the bear about 15 yards away. He said he tried to scare the bear by making himself big and loud and the bear responded with a jaw slap, which is not an aggressive gesture but actually a move that indicates the bear is afraid. When the bear moved towards him, and when the hiker tried to move away, he fell down and then delivered multiple palm strikes to the face of the bear who was above him. The hiker then ran and the bear did not follow him.
This whole incident should be a reminder that what the public needs is not legislators and media pouncing on inaccurate reports to spread fear but more education on how to coexist with bears, like wearing bear bells and carrying bear spray while hiking and posting signs at public trails informing hikers what to do when they see a bear, which is: get loud, wave your arms, yell and throw rocks at the bear.
Because hikers will see a bear. Because the woods are their home.