Dealing with ‘Bear Days of Summer’ - TribPapers

Dealing with ‘Bear Days of Summer’

Three cubs play in the backyard of George Zourzoukis’ home in Asheville’s historic Montford district. Photo by George Zourzoukis.

Asheville, Flat Rock – Wild black bears looking for food are venturing into neighborhoods in Buncombe and Henderson counties these days, triggering quick reactions by residents to protect themselves and loved ones and also marvel at the furry creatures.

I successfully implemented wildlife experts’ tips on how to use sight and sound to scare off a close, approaching bear. A juvenile black bear came onto my front porch in Flat Rock at 2 a.m. on one cold, wintry morning before I was heading to sleep.

Like a neighbor’s cat three nights earlier, the bear went after small tropical fish that I stored outside in the winter chill before disposing of them. I had easily shooed away the cat.

I heard clawing again, presumed it was the cat, and opened the front door.

A good-sized bear was merely four feet in front of me, at most. He was sideways to me, clawing after containers. He turned toward me. He was too close for comfort – for myself and my home. An adrenalin rush pepped me up.

There is no screen door at the front door. Thus, he could barge in and smash apart two pet fish tanks just inside the house.

Much worse, he could have mauled me. What should I do? I could slam the door to protect myself, but he might damage the door and much else outside. Instead, I stood my ground to try to chase him away.

Bigger, Badder Bear!

Instantly, I put into action bear tips I read for when a confrontation is inevitable. Bears have weak eyesight. They can be visually fooled. They respect an apparently strong foe.

Thus, as prescribed, I raised both arms far above my shoulders and waved them frantically. This fools a bear into mistaking hands for shoulder tops. This frantic action transformed me into a bigger, badder pseudo-bear.

A cub climbs on porch railing, toward Mary Zourzoukis’ bird feeder in Haw Creek. Photo by Dino Zourzouki.
A cub climbs on porch railing, toward Mary Zourzoukis’ bird feeder in Haw Creek. Photo by Dino Zourzouki.

Sound also helps repel wildlife. I growled loudly in a low tone while still waving arms, a millisecond before slamming the door. As a bonus, I barked like the guard dog I imagined.

Something worked. I peered through the door’s peep-hole. The intruder was gone. I remain grateful that he high-tailed it, and I survived to write about it.

Not Play Pals

A bear spray is a repellent. A bear whistle is deemed less effective, but can alert dogs and neighbors to help. Jennifer Soule plans to buy such devices, after a dangerous bear encounter Aug. 2. Two juvenile bears approached, while she walked her German Shepherd Sadie off-leash on trails behind her home in Flat Rock. Sadie was “running around behind me,” not in front as usual.

Soule initially mistook the lead cub as “my neighbor’s black dog Stella, who likes to play hide and seek with Sadie in the morning.” The dog buddies are “extremely rambunctious — running, wrestling, playing. Sadie gets into playful “skirmishes” with dogs in a local dog park.

She once “encountered a baby possum, which she toyed with,” Soule said. “I thought she might try to ‘play’ with these bears, too.” That could spark an attack — especially from any nearby, protective mama bear. Sadie, a year and a half old, has much “puppy energy and loves to chase,” Soule said. The bears retreated, on an “awkward run,” Soule said. “Sadie pursued them into the woods. Once she caught sight and scent, I could not catch her as she whizzed past in pursuit.”

Though Soule felt “terrified,” she wisely projected her “sternest voice” to shout “Sadie. Come — now!” She said that Sadie returned “immediately. Perhaps she could sense my urgency.”

Peaceful Scavengers

Wildlife experts advise that if a mama bear with cubs approach, it helps to stay still and slowly retreat while maintaining eye contact. Turning around conveys fear, and a chance of a pursuit.

Sophia Paulk said bears at her family’s home in North Asheville “never pay us any attention. They are minding their own business.” She said, “They are everywhere. I see them all the time.” She recently saw a young bear walk on a Folk Art Center pedestrian path, and curious people run after it.

A large bear sniffed on the Paulks’ back porch two weeks ago. Mrs. Paulk scared it away to “save” her Cocker Spaniel. Visiting River Ridge Apartments, Paulk saw a bear that habitually goes to a resident who “feeds him.” She saw a huge bear knock over her neighbor’s trash can, pull open the can, and chew open bags.

Soule noted that in her wooded neighborhood, “despite multiple warnings, folks put trash cans out to the curb the night before.” That is likely why “there are fairly regular bear sightings” there. She has also seen fox and heard coyotes. Her heart-pounding bear adventure was on a trash pickup morning.

Eliminating potential bear food such as bird seed and food scraps in trash helps keep creatures away.

Bears are quite resourceful. They can twist open door handles. Former WLOS meterologist Julie Wunder posted a video showing two cubs climbing and down two slides – with momma bear waiting at a slide’s bottom.