Be alert: Tips on how to defend yourself against black bears in NJ
Black bear sightings have certainly been on the rise throughout New Jersey this year. And it seems like they're making their way in places we rarely ever see them.
Black bears are quite common in the northwestern part of the state, where the terrain suits them well to make a living. Not to mention, the human population is not as dense as it is in other parts of the state.
But ever since New Jersey ended its bear hunt, these animals have been making their way to some very unusual locations. One of the earliest sightings that occurred as the warmer weather arrived was a bear that somehow wandered all the way to Atlantic Highlands in Monmouth County.
That alone is quite impressive for a bear to pull off. One has to wonder where and how it crossed the Garden State Parkway without being hit or noticed. Obviously, New Jersey's black bears are pretty smart.
But since then, black bear sightings have increased further down the Garden State all the way into parts of southern New Jersey. Areas that previously never gave black bear sightings a thought are now suddenly on high alert.
With so many sightings now happening at all corners of the state, perhaps the time has come for us to learn how to defend against them should a problem arise. At least black bears aren't as dangerous as, say, brown or grizzly bears.
Of course, that's not to say black bears can't be dangerous. They certainly can be, especially if they feel threatened or have cubs with them.
With that said, it's important to know what to do if you encounter a black bear out of its element in the Garden State. Although residents in the northwestern part of the state might think of this as second nature, many New Jerseyans further south and along the coast might not know some of these tips.
Stand your ground and look right at it
It may be incredibly scary to do, but standing your ground and looking directly at it is one way to defend yourself against a black bear if you find yourself in close proximity. But as you're doing this, make sure you don't continue to approach the bear.
Approaching the bear might make it feel threatened or cornered, increasing the possibility of attack. Never move closer, only further away. And very slowly.
Make yourself appear as big as possible
Think of how a blowfish puffs itself up when it feels threatened, making itself appear much larger than it really is to scare off potential predators.
It's kind of the same theory here. Spread your arms out as wide as possible, or even over your head, to make yourself appear larger. And if you happen to have any loose clothing on, use that to your advantage. Spread it out or let it hang down to further give the illusion of appearing larger.
You can also stand a little wider as well. All of this combined will help you look bigger to the bear and thus, make the bear think twice about approaching you.
Noise, noise, noise
One thing you learn when camping in bear country is that black bears hate lots of noise. While you stand your ground and try to appear larger, make a lot of noise.
Bang things together, clap, shout, and do whatever else you can to create as much noise as possible. The louder you can get the better.
This might be the default thing to do, but it's a terrible idea. That would show the bear you don't fear it and increases the likelihood of it chasing you.
Keeping all of the points above in mind, slowly backing away from the black bear is the way to go. But never take your eyes off of it and show it no fear.
Remain calm and collected
Again, this is all easier said than done, but staying calm and collected is very important. Panic will only cause you to think irrationally and potentially put you in even greater danger.
Give the bear a way out
This one is also very important. If the bear feels it can't escape you, it may feel it has to attack as its only means to safety.
Don't corner the bear and make sure there's a way for it to run off. For example, if you have an encounter at the corner of a fence, don't try and block it in. Instead, very slowly move in such a way that you increase the size of its escape route.
Again, keep all of the above in mind while doing this. Never run away, make lots of noise, appear larger, and don't take your eyes off of it.
If you're with someone else, don't split up
There's strength in numbers, and splitting up is not the way to go. You'll want to stick together throughout the duration of the encounter.
Do not approach cubs
Cubs may look cute, but never, ever, approach them. The mother bear will see you as a threat and attack. It's a natural motherly instinct, and a situation you never want to find yourself in.
Remember all of this to help you stay safe
The most important things here are to remain calm and not to be a threat to the bear. It's just as curious as you are, and probably doesn't want anything to do with you. So don't give it a reason to view you as a threat.
However, that doesn't mean don't stand up for yourself. Still follow all of the above if you find yourself in a situation to show the bear you're not scared of it. But also, don't become a threat to it and give it a reason to feel it needs to defend itself.
Black bears are fascinating animals that demand respect, and we need to give them that. If you're a safe distance away and the danger of any threat seems low, then let it be and don't encounter it.
Slowly get out of the situation calmly while keeping an eye on it, and don't become a threat. As long as you don't panic and remain calm, you should be fine.
At home, try to keep your garbage cans secure and birdfeeders out of reach. And of course, never feed a black bear on purpose.
For more vital tips on bear safety, check out bearwise.org. It's important to know what to do if an encounter with a black bear were to occur, especially with more sightings happening here in New Jersey.
Lastly, have you ever heard of skunk cabbage? Black bears are one of the few animals that actually eat this plant, so it's a good idea to know how to recognize it in case you see large patches of it disturbed. It could possibly indicate that a black bear might be in the area.