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Trekking in the Himalayas: How To Avoid Himalayan Bear Attacks

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For every adventure and nature enthusiast, trekking to the great Indian Himalayas is without a doubt an experience that surpasses all the items on your adventure bucket list. However, it is very easy to get distracted by sheer exhilaration and euphoria of the trek, and hikers and campers usually run into the area’s indigenous wildlife. And while bear attacks are not a common occurrence, they are becoming more and more frequent in recent times. This increase in the number of Himalayan bear attacks could be attributed to the rise in the number of human inhabitants in the rural areas, as well as a sharp increase in the number of trekkers and campers every year. Let’s now find out how to avoid animal encounters during the trek. 

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Himalayan Bear Habitat

The Himalayan bear is generally found in three major mountain ranges, namely Hindu Kush, Karakoram and the Western Himalayan ranges, and the four inter-mountain highlands. These animals prefer more forested terrains and moist tropical forests and are usually found at altitudes up to 12,000 feet, and are known to be one of the most ancient lineages of brown bears. In comparison to the to the grizzly bears of North America, the Himalayan black bear or brown bear are known to be more aggressive in nature. They hate surprises and get far more easily agitated when they get startled from any sudden human interaction. The Himalayan brown bear is a very large animal, with stocky limbs, a big head and an uncanny ability to walk upright. They are actually nocturnal animals and tend to spend the day sleeping. However, due to the scarcity of food sources and decrease of forestation, they have become more active during the daytime. 

While information about bears in the Himalayan ranges is very scarce, they are known amongst local villagers in the region to be the most frequent type of wild animal attacks. Notoriously known to get agitated and voraciously pursue its prey, there is no guaranteed way of protecting yourself in the case of up-close bear attack. 

himalayan bear habitat
Himalayan bear found in altitude of 12,000 ft (source)

Tips to Stay Safe from Himalayan Bear Attack

Adopting certain precautions and gaining knowledge about the landscape can help significantly decrease the chances of your running into any wild animals in the Himalayas, and make the overall trek and camping experience much safer. There are tips you must always keep in mind when you travel across the great Indian Himalayan ranges, to prevent any dangerous encounters with Himalayan bears and other wild animals in the Himalayas. And that is why it is important to take careful precautionary measures before venturing into the higher altitudes of the Himalayan ranges. 

Tip #1 Avoiding any Kind of Encounter 

The increase in the number of bear attacks can be linked back to the rise in the number of human-bear encounters, and the only way to ensure avoiding a run-in with a bear is to stay away from the areas in which they live. And this may be quite the tricky option for many hikers, trekkers and even geologists who may need to venture into the bear inhabited areas. But in the case for hikers and adventure enthusiasts, it is best advised that you take routes and pathways that are known to stray away from the bear countries. It’s best to always be on the lookout for active bear signs, such as fresh bear scat or newly made tracks on the ground. Also try to avoid known feeding areas like brooks, streams berry batches. Hiking in midday will reduce the chance of encountering a bear, as they are less active at that time.

Livingit Tip
Never hike after nightfall, as the Himalayan brown bear is a known nocturnal hunter.

Tip #2 Hike In Groups

If you do end up hiking or walking through bear countries, it is best you complete the hike in groups of people. This helps avoid singular vulnerability during the case of a bear encounter. And while trekking is all about exploring the area around you, it’s better to be on your guard and in a larger numbers when it comes to wild animal attacks. While trekking to the Himalayas, the Himalayan bears are less likely to attack a large group of humans than a single trekker.

hike in groups
Always hike in groups 

Tip #3 Be Informed About Your Areas

It is highly suggested that you talk to your guide and the local inhabitants in the areas to find out any and all information about bears on your route, near your campsites, and the frequency of bear encounters. Locals in the area generally have the best idea on the places where there is a higher probability of running into wild animals in the Himalayas. Remember to always gather as much information as you can from these people on how you can become more aware of your surroundings and the measures you can take to avoid wild animal attacks. It is good to have this information with you as you embark on yourself so that in the eventual case of a bear attack, you might have a couple of tricks up your sleeve and not immediately panic. 

Tip #4 Make Sure That Your Presence Is Heard 

When you trek in the densely forested paths of the Himalayan ranges that are more prone to bear and wild animal attacks, remember to advertise your presence along the way. Make your presence known by making some noise; you can sing, talk loudly and make a little bit of noise (but not too much). This is to ensure that the element of surprise is eliminated for the Himalayan bears in the area. Nothing agitates a wild bear more than a surprise and close encounter with a human being, and by announcing your presence, these bears will tend to stay away from your path. You’d be happy to know that Himalayan bear tends to avoid any encounter with humans just as much as we do with them. 

Tip #5 Don’t Give It a Chance To Sniff You Out 

This is an essential tip to keep in mind, especially when you go camping in the Himalayas. You can bear-proof your campsite by making sure that all your food and other camping items in your kit don’t give off any unusual odours. It’s absolutely vital that you don’t keep your food and toiletries like toothpaste, bug repellents and sunscreen, lying outside in your campsite. Himalayan bears and wild animals usually attack campsites in the hunt for food, so remember to keep all your food items away from them. Pack all your food tightly and securely and avoid cooking food items during the hike with high aromas. Himalayan bears and wild animals can sense aromatic foods very quickly and waste no time in attacking the area. 

Livingit Tip
Wear separate clothing while cooking and sleeping. Bear can sniff the cooking aroma and attack you during your sleep. 

himalayan bear sniffing
Don't let the bear sniff you (source)

Tip #6 The Campsite Location Matters

Apart from sealing and protecting your food in sealable plastic containers, and keeping them inside your tents and cars, it is critical to find an open and easily accessible location for your campsite. Do not place your tent near hanging aromatics or to any source of food smells as it might attract Himalayan bears and wild animals. The suggested distance between tents and any sort of eating area is 100 yards, and also ensure that you put as much space between your campsite and the food wrappers, dishes and leftovers as many wild bears and animals can get attracted to their pungent scents. You should also place your tent in an area where you have plenty of visibility and open area.

Livingit Tip
Don’t pitch your tent in areas with heavy bushes, as it can restrict your view of any approaching bears.

Tip #7 Stay Away from the Wild Animals and Any Carcasses On the Path

As endearing as it sounds, never approach a Himalayan bear or any wild animal on encounter them. As much as a great opportunity it might be a good photograph, a Himalayan bear is not going to think twice before attacking you. Never try and go close to a wild animal for your own safety. Additionally, if you happen to find any carcasses on your path, veer away from the scene. This is could indicate a high possibility of coming in contact with a wild animal or a Himalayan bear. Wild animals usually keep an eye on their food and are very likely to attack you if you happen to be near them.

What to Do When You Encounter a Himalayan Bear

While most of the measures taken are done in order to avoid any encounter with Himalayan bears and wild animals, during your trek or camping trip, there is still no sure shot way of ensuring all avoidance from the local wildlife in the area. In the situation of coming in contact with a wild Himalayan bear, here are some measures and tips you should keep in mind:

1. Staying Calm is the Key

If you happen to encounter a Himalayan brown bear in close proximity, remember to stay calm and not make any sudden movements. Raise your arms and attempt to make yourself look bigger and more intimidating. Start to slowly back away from the bear without making any eye contact, and remember to never turn your back at any point, until and unless you are at a very safe and considerable distance from the bear. The brown bears and any of the other wild animals in the Himalayas do not usually attack if they don’t sense any immediate danger and threat from your end. 

encounter himalayan bear
Stay calm when you spot Himalayan bear (source)

2. From A Distance

If you happen to spot a wild Himalayan bear in the distance, all you need to do is simply back away a few hundred yards, as slowly and calmly as possible. You can either try taking a different from there onwards, or you could make sure that you advertise your presence while going back down the trailhead. This would help notify the bear of you and not catch him off guard, thereby giving him ample time to move out of your path. 

3. When A Bear Charges At You

If a wild Himalayan bear happens to begin charging at you, the rule is to not run. As contradicting as it sounds, the truth remains that outrunning a bear is almost near impossible. They can easily catch up to you and running away will only anger them even more and keep them interested in pursuing you. So here are some do’s and don’ts in the situation of an attack:

  • Don’t climb a tree, as the Himalayan bear is a skilled tree climber and easily catch you
  • Don’t play dead and try to fight back. A wild Himalayan bear considers you as prey and trying to fight back may take it off guard for a bit. Try and aim your kicks and blows at the bear’s face and snout, as this manoeuvre tends to disorient that animal enough to give you time to escape
  • If you cannot fight back, drop to the ground and immediately cover your neck, face, and head with your hands to minimise the blows to your face and skull.
  • If you happen to have bear repellent spray, do not feel hesitant to use it. Use whatever material you have around you to protect yourself. For example; if you have happen to only find sticks and stones around, aim directly for the bear’s most sensitive areas - this would include the face, nose, and eyes. In the case of a predatory attack, the encounter becomes a matter of life and death. So do everything you possibly can to save your life and escape

Wrapping Up

The Himalayan brown bear and black bears are notorious pursuers and are known to be far more aggressive. And for every trekker and nature lover, a hike across the Himalayan ranges may come with an edge of caution. While the explicitly beautiful stretch of trails and nature in the vicinity may tend to hold your primary attention, there is a large emphasis in maintaining care and serious precaution when venturing into these natural wildlife habitats. The Himalayan bear is known to get extremely agitated when startled and if caught in a close encounter, the situation can get risky. And while there is no full-proof way of protecting yourself in such a situation, there are many ways in which you can avoid coming across any bears and wild animals all together.

Gaining a thorough knowledge about the geographical stretch of the trek and the specific areas that are more prone to bear attacks is something you should always be wary of when trekking in the Himalayas. And at the end of the day, the Himalayan bear is also known to naturally stay away from human contact and avoid unwanted company to its greatest ability. So remember to enjoy the natural and scenic magnificence of the trek, but also keep in mind that we should keep in mind of the land and space that primordially stands as the home to a vast variety of wildlife in the Himalayan ranges. 


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