True North Blog

Lions, Tigers, and Bears … Relax!

You want to spend more time in the Great Outdoors but you are more than a little nervous at the prospect of sharing the forest with vicious animals who are waiting to eat you?

Well, all I can say is … Dude, relax!  Trust me, you and your kids are not likely going to end up as an appetizer on the menu of a gastronomic bear (or, for that matter, any creature) the next time you decide to venture to the Laurel Highlands, Allegheny National Forest, or any of the other countless beautiful lands that this region has to offer.  Don’t believe me? … I’ve got the statistics to prove it!

Collective Fear

I have found that the fear of “wild animals” is one of the biggest ones that people have when considering the prospect of spending time in woods.  Which is unfortunate because, frankly, it is a fear based purely on our collective imagination, not reality.

Yellowstone Selfie Attempt

Case in point, this past June, I was teaching a firecraft lesson to a bunch of really terrific families when one of the parents pulled me aside to ask my opinion.  She explained that she was a single mother who, although she had no outdoor experience, had long been wanting to learn to hike and camp, especially since she now wanted to expose her young children to Nature, but she had been hesitant.  Why? … Her male neighbor told her that she needed to be worried about cougars.

My advice?  I suggested that she begin planning a fun camping trip with her kids.  In short, I explained that while it is possible that a wild animal might be a danger, it is not probable.  After all, for all my time in the woods, not only have I never seen a cougar, I have never even heard of anyone else seeing one.

Scientific Study

A recent study in the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, published by the Wilderness Medical Society, underscores this point.  It’s basic conclusion … Most human deaths caused by animals, occur not in the wild, but (essentially) in our own backyards.  In summary, roughly 60% of all animal-related deaths are caused by farm animals (mostly to farm workers), roughly 10% are cased by dogs (in urban and suburban settings), and the rough balance caused by the stings of bees, wasps, and hornets (most, also, in urban and suburban settings).  While most people are fearful of dying from a snakebite, this study also found that “venomous snakes and lizards” accounted for only 3.9% of deaths.

Grizzly Bear Selfie

Separately, for those injuries or deaths that do occur in the wild, I can attest that I read far more news articles involving bison in our national parks than any other creature.  Is it because these animals are so aggressive and vicious?  No, they are otherwise perfectly content being left alone to graze and do whatever bison happily do.  Rather, it’s because humans are antagonizing them by their insistent efforts to take selfies!

The Moral

You have a greater chance of being killed by being bucked off your horse or being attacked by the neighbor’s dog, than you have of being mauled by a bear or cougar.

So, consider taking your family camping this weekend … You may actually be safer there!

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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