Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fatal Bear Attack at Yellowstone

One camper was killed and two others injured in the wee hours of Wednesday morning when a bear attacked three tents in a camping area in Yellowstone National Park.  Park officials have closed the campground and set traps for the bear or bears responsible.  They have no idea what may have caused the attacks, and say the campers had their food properly secured.  Bears looking for food is by far the most common cause of such attacks.  This is the first fatal bear attack in Yellowstone since 2001.

Anyone who has gone camping with a first time camper of any age (and sometimes with a second, third or later time camper, too) has dealt with their fear of wild animals.  Every rustle sounds like a potential threat, and there are plenty of rustles out in the wilderness.  We reassure the nervous by saying, "Don't worry, leave them alone and they'll leave you alone.  They're more afraid of you than you are of them."

That's not to say that those who are afraid of bears or other wild animals are atypical in any way.  One of the reasons bears in campgrounds appear in our popular culture is that it helps us put humor on something that, deep down, we don't find very humorous.  When Yogi and Boo-Boo go after their "pick-a-nick baskets" in "Jellystone Park", we convince ourselves that things aren't really that scary.  And when Stephen Colbert puts bears at the top of nearly every "Threat Down," we feel ok about the fact that yes, we'd prefer they stayed far away from us, thank you very much.

The fact is, though, that while the chances of a bear attack in Yellowstone are perhaps higher than normal, they still aren't very high.  In Yellowstone, there is an average of one bear attack per year, and most are not fatal.  There are between two and three million visits to Yellowstone every year, so clearly the chances are pretty small.  If you view a one in two million chance of death from an activity as unacceptable risk, you certainly shouldn't ride in a motor vehicle -- your risk of dying is 300 per two million motor vehicles in the United States.

So let's say you have plans to go camping in Yellowstone this week.  Should you go?  Of course that's up to you.  If you are going to spend the whole time sitting awake and terrified, then probably you aren't going to have a very good time and it's not worth it.  There's nothing wrong with you if that describes you.  It describes me pretty much, and it did before this latest news, too.  Our minds are not necessarily very good at sticking with the actual likelihood of something happening when they decide what to be afraid of.

photo copyright istockphoto/judilen


Colleen said...

I have gone camping with at least 3 first time campers, who had no fear, whatsoever, of wild animals. Of course they all 1 yr old or younger at the time...but, last I checked, those do count as "any age".

Need to watch those sweeping/absolute statements, if only to avoid irritating comments by relatives ;-)

Bill Staines has a song about animals in the wilderness...that porcupine that scared him.

I have no plans to camp in Yellowstone, though not because of the bears (not sure if I'd be nervous or not...I'm not consistent), but rather because, as my luggage tag on my suitcase says, "I so love not camping!"

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