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Keywords:

  • American black bear;
  • fatal bear attacks;
  • Ursus americanus;
  • predation on humans;
  • human–black bear conflict

Abstract

At least 63 people were killed in 59 incidents by non-captive black bear (Ursus americanus) during 1900–2009. Fatal black bear attacks occurred in Canada and Alaska (n = 49) and in the lower 48 states (n = 14). There were 3.5 times as many fatal attacks in Canada and Alaska but only 1.75 times as many black bears, and much less human contact for black bears in Canada and Alaska. There was a weak positive correlation (rs = 0.56, P ≤ 0.000) between the estimated size of a bear population within a given jurisdiction and the number of fatal black bear attacks. Some jurisdictions had no fatal black bear attacks but had large estimated black bear populations. Of fatal attacks, 86% (54 of 63, 1.08/yr) occurred between 1960 and 2009. There was positive linear relationship between the number of fatal black bear attacks per decade and human population size in the United States and Canada per decade (r2 = 0.92, β = 0.000, P ≤ 0.001). Of fatal attacks, 91% (49 of 54) occurred on parties of 1 or 2 persons. In 38% (15 of 40) of incidents, peoples' food or garbage probably influenced the bear being in the attack location. We judged that the bear involved acted as a predator in 88% (49 of 56) of fatal incidents. Adult (n = 23) or subadult (n = 10) male bears were involved in 92% (33 of 36) of fatal predatory incidents, reflecting biological and behavioral differences between male and female bears. That most fatal black bear attacks were predatory and were carried out by 1 bear shows that females with young are not the most dangerous black bears. As a result of our research agencies managing black bear can more accurately understand the risk of being killed by a black bear, and can communicate this to the public. With training, people can learn to recognize the behaviors of a bear considering them as prey and can act to deter predation. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.