I am sure that most people visiting Alaska or Canada have bears and other animals on their mind, whether it be to see them or avoid them. I’m no exception in that respect. I’ve already seen a number of black bears but it is more likely I will see Denali grizzlies over the next few days. These bears typically weigh around 500lbs and are bigger than black bears but smaller than their brown cousins on the coast who benefit from a rich diet of salmon. The Denali grizzlies predominantly eat vegetation as there are few fish in the glacial streams and rivers due to the silt. In two weeks time I have a wilderness camp booked at the McNeil River Sanctuary where I perhaps have the best chance of seeing bears up close.

At Denali everyone is keen to point out that nobody has been killed by a bear in the park since it was established and that in spite of the fact you can walk pretty much wherever you want. The etiquette imparted by one ranger regarding bear and moose encounters was as follows:

1. Bear encounter. Do not run. Stand your ground, slowly wave your arms above your head and talk in a firm calm voice to the bear. “Hello bear. Just visiting. Not here to bother you.” If the bear doesn’t move, slowly move back and continue until he starts ignoring you. If on the other hand he charges you which is more likely if you startled him, stop and stand your ground. Again, do not run. Most charges are supposedly bluffs! In theory he will via away at the last moment. (Interestingly I have seen this behavior when a dog charges another dog.) If he doesn’t via away I heard variable advice. If it is a black bear fight back. If it is a grizzly or brown bear play dead for a couple of minutes before fighting back. Usually, if they consider the threat you posed over they will lose interest. In all cases never run because it only triggers the predatory instinct and causes a chase.

2. Moose charge. Run for the nearest trees! Moose have no predatory interest and although they can outrun you they can’t move as quickly as you through trees. Once you are out of sight and they believe you have no interest in harming them they will stop chasing you.