What to do when you meet a bear while hiking?

Bear
Małopolska is one of the last places in Poland where you can meet large predators and other animals from the so-called red list of endangered species. Let us not do anything to endanger ourselves or them. A tourist who inadvertently wanted to take a selfie with a bear that he had spotted in the Tatra Mountains was definitely very lucky to have come out of this experience alive.

Małopolska has the largest number of national parks in Poland. Rare species of animals under strict protection often live there. It is important to remember that this is their home and we are intruders. For example, scaring birds out of their nests may result in the death of young hatchlings and, when it comes to endangered species, such damage may in turn lead to their extinction. Bear in mind that the numbers of some species of animals living in the wild do not exceed several hundred, and sometimes only several dozen. 


Małopolska – the land of wild animals


In Małopolska's national parks and mountains you can meet:


•    The Tatra Mountains: bears, lynxes, chamois, marmots, deer, golden eagles, wallcreepers


•    The Babia Góra Massif: bears, wolves, lynxes, elks, badgers, bats, black grouse, capercaillies


•    The Pieniny Mountains: wildcats, lynxes, badgers, eagle-owls, black storks


•    The Gorce Mountains: wolves, wild boars, badgers, ermines, otters


•    Beskid Niski: bears, wolves, wildcats, lynxes, nyctereutes, golden eagles, buzzards


Quite often, tourists are able to observe the life of wild animals from a distance, which sometimes leads to unexpected close encounters in which both man and animal may feel threatened. You should be especially careful in the spring, when the animals’ offspring are born and mothers protect their young. There are certain rules that must be followed, especially when going on a trip into the Tatra Mountains, where meeting with a wild animal is very likely.


Keep calm and maintain distance


When wandering on mountain trails, it often happens that animal paths run in close proximity to hiking trails or sometimes even intersect them. In such a situation, under no circumstances should you approach the encountered animal – it is best to stay out of their way. A very good solution is to equip your backpack with a bell (especially popular on Slovak trails) or to have a whistle. Such a sound signal is clearly heard by animals and therefore they are able to sense the presence of a person. Nevertheless, the most important thing is distance. You must remember that even when an animal unexpectedly surprises you on your trail, you should remain calm, not make sudden movements and walk away slowly. The unpredictability of an animal’s behaviour makes it especially important to keep a safe distance.


Stay on the trail and return before dark


Although wild animals usually go their own way and widely avoid contact with people and their trails, you must remember that you must not stray from your route. There are cases where more tame animals have come closer, an example of which may be the chamois in the Tatras which like to look with curiosity onto tourist routes.  As a rule, however, animals seek peace and quiet and it is necessary to be aware that entering their area may result in frightening them and lead to their defensive behaviour, which may be dangerous for humans. The animals’ foraging time usually starts just after dark. It’s best to plan your trip according to the length of the day and return before dusk. If you are delayed for any reason, remember to have a flashlight – you can also make the animals aware of your presence this way.


Pictures? Only from a safe distance!


Who wouldn’t be fascinated by the sight of a bear grazing in a field, a deer grandly strolling through a clearing, or a marmot sneaking between boulders? Tourists often have the opportunity to observe wild animals while wandering the trails in the Tatra mountains, but you should always follow the most important rule – keep your distance. If you want to take a photo, take it from a safe distance and walk away slowly. This way, the animal will not feel threatened.


Do not feed the animals!


Feeding wild animals is one of the worst habits of people. An animal’s natural instinct adapts it to seek and obtain food. Feeding animals makes them more tame and self-confident. The simplest example are the ducks swimming on the Tatra ponds, which wait for tourists to approach the shore, then quickly swim by and wait to be fed. Unfortunately, many tourists take pity and feed them with their crumbs. This bad habit may not only harm animals that are not adapted to human food, but, as a result, can cause dangerous situations when the animal begins to approach humans more and more boldly while waiting for food. This is especially true when it comes to larger predators. The food that we take with us should be tightly packed, and we should not leave any leftovers or rubbish on the trails under any circumstances.


A close encounter with a bear


The bear is probably one of the most fascinating representatives of the Tatra fauna. It is quite common for tourists hiking in the mountains to see this animal in different parts of the Tatra Mountains, but it can be a great threat. It is worth recalling one recent occurrence – a close meeting of a tourist with a bear in the vicinity of the Chochołowska Valley that took place on 21 October 2021. The tourist came into close contact with the animal just off of a tourist trail. The bear did not sense the smell of the approaching man, probably due to the strong wind, and did not expect to meet him, and, in defence, he bit the man and ran away. The man was transported to hospital and, luckily, recovered quickly. Although such behaviour of animals in the Tatra Mountains is rare, there have been previous similar cases, such as the one in 1926. It is worth remembering that a bear is a predator, and when surprised, it can react very violently, which could, in turn, be dangerous for us.


Warning


Remember that after crossing the border of the national park or entering the forest, we are entering the animal kingdom. This is their home where we as people are guests and should respect the laws of nature. When you come across an opportunity to observe wild animals, remember to keep a safe distance and back away slowly.

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