Human–bear conflict

A mother and cubs seek food in refuse

As man demands access to ever more land, many bear populations find themselves living in close proximity to humans and human food sources. The conflict that can ensue is a major international problem affecting all bear species.

Attracted to the prospect of an easy meal, wild bears become used to feeding on the crops, fruit, livestock and garbage that appear nearby. When these food sources are not properly bear-proofed, encounters with humans become almost inevitable.

Read a full definition on WSPA's human–bear conflict microsite >>

How conflict occurs

If a large, powerful wild animal becomes attracted to human food sources, the destruction of property – particularly beehives, livestock and bins – often follows. This, combined with occasional attacks on humans, creates hostility towards bears.

Those animals identified as ‘nuisance’ bears are and are usually dealt with in one of two ways: injured or killed using inhumane methods or captured and put in lifelong captivity.

Another danger comes from the false assumption that an increase in pest bears means there are too many bears in the forest. This leads to rising hunting quotas, which leads to orphaned cubs, left to starve.

Female bears that become used to human food sources usually have larger litters. Cubs then follow the foraging example set by their mothers, and the problem continues.

A holistic solution

WSPA carried out research since 2006 (now housed in our specialist microsite), developing and testing practical ways to reduce human–bear conflicts and the number of bears that are inhumanely destroyed or placed in captivity.

WSPA currently funds a number of innovative projects that are:  

  • developing universal, practical measures to discourage bears from feeding from human sources, such as better waste management
  • initiating methods to educate local communities on how to avoid conflict
  • working with local media to raise public and government awareness
  • securing cooperation from relevant local businesses
  • training local officials on dealing with problem bears humanely, like relocating them
  • producing readily accessible guidelines for authorities and local groups, for example, on building bear-proof fences.

These projects will result in proven solutions that can be given to local authorities and applied wherever locations the problem of human–bear conflict arises.

Find out more

Greater detail about our approach and projects and the peer-reviewed Principles of human–bear conflict reduction document (2009) are all on WSPA's human–bear conflict microsite >>

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