8 Surprising Tales of Human-Bear Encounters

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When bears cross paths with humans, just about anything can happen. Here are eight stories about encounters that probably didn’t go as either party expected.


Douglas Harder has grown accustomed to getting visits from bears at his condo in Sandpoint, Idaho. “You know it’s very common, I live up on a mountain and this is the wilderness,” he told ABC news. In the spring of 2015, a mother black bear and her two cubs made a habit of emptying the birdfeeder on Harder’s second-story deck.

The following August, he returned home from a brief trip out of town to discover that some local ursid had broken into his kitchen through a partially open sliding door. Once inside, the intruder scratched up a wall and gobbled up some junk food before taking its leave. No sooner had Harder cleaned up the mess than a bear cub shoved its face through his cat door. One night later, the cub gave the tiny door another try, allowing Harder to snap some hilarious photographs that made the rounds on American news outlets.


A film crew sent to capture new footage for the 2015 nature series The Hunt was caught off-guard by a hungry polar bear who made a habit of dropping by their cabin in Svalbard, Norway. Within a 24-hour period, the animal barged into the building on no fewer than three separate occasions. During these forays, it devoured nearly all of the team’s food supply, eating everything from their dried pasta to a jar of the producer’s olives. And at one point, the crew returned to find the bear sleeping peacefully by the doorway with some of their red wine smeared across its face. One of the few things that wasn’t eaten, however, was a lone jar of Marmite—a yeast-based food spread whose slogan, appropriately enough, is “Love it or hate it.”


Kristen Jones of Knoxville was visiting her parents in Burke County, North Carolina last June when she decided to do some yoga on the bank of a nearby lake. Popping in her ear buds, Jones sat by the shore and began the exercise routine. That’s when her day took an unexpected turn. “I felt a sniff on my right shoulder and a lick up my neck,” Jones later recalled. Assuming that the neighbor’s dog had wandered over, Jones reached backwards to hug the animal—and received the shock of her life. As the Tennessee woman turned around, she spotted a full-grown black bear walking away. Terrified, Jones stumbled backwards into the lake while her visitor lumbered off.


Early in July 2015, numerous guests and staffers of the USA Raft Company on the Nolichucky River sighted a dangerously skinny bear cub patrolling the river’s banks all by herself. “There was no sign of a mama bear,” general manager Matt Moses told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “She was obviously malnourished and appeared to be in distress. My guides kept coming back to me and saying they had no idea what to do.”

The bear was just as interested in the rafters. With each passing day, the little creature grew more intrepid, walking or swimming closer and closer to passing rafts. After four consecutive days of progress, she finally clambered into the raft of Danny Allen, a veteran guide who delivered the underweight animal to Moses. The Tennessee Wildlife Agency was called in short order, and the cub was given some much-needed medical attention. Once she’d regained some of her former strength, the animal was handed over to Appalachian Bear Rescue, a care facility based in Townsend. By then, her story had gone viral on Facebook, where she received the nickname “Noli Bear” (“Noli” being short for Nolichucky).


Back in 2004, rangers at Washington’s Baker Lake found themselves dealing with a boozy black bear.  The trouble began when this critter opened up several unattended coolers on the campgrounds. As he foraged these campsites, the bear drank his way through the beer cans he came across—or at least some of them, anyway. “He drank the Rainer, but wouldn’t drink the Busch beer,” said resort bookkeeper Lisa Broxson. Reportedly, the ursine thief downed 36 cans of the former beer while deliberately ignoring all but one can of the latter.

"I’ve known them to get into cans,” Sgt. Bill Heinck of Fish and Wildlife told reporters, “but nothing like this… it definitely had a preference.” Noticeably buzzed, the bear didn’t put up much resistance when park rangers arrived to shoo him away. However, instead of leaving, he scaled a nearby tree and took a four-hour nap in its branches. Once the bear woke up, park employees were finally able to scare him off, only to see the big fellow come back for another round the next day. Undaunted, the rangers used donuts, honey, and—of course—two cans of Rainier to lure their bear into a humane trap. Following his apprehension, the four-legged lager enthusiast was successfully relocated.


On the morning of July 28, 2016, David Meurer of Evergreen, Colorado walked down his driveway en route to a church meeting. Along the way, Meurer couldn’t help but notice that the door of his wife’s SUV was slightly ajar. Closer inspection revealed an even bigger surprise: Somehow, a good-sized black bear had crawled into the car overnight. With Meurer watching, the intruder abruptly made its presence known to the whole neighborhood, shaking the vehicle and honking the horn as it thrashed about in the car’s cabin. The racket woke up a neighbor who cracked open the SUV door and then banged on some pans to scare the animal off.


Palmer High School in Colorado Springs nearly went into lockdown mode last year when a black bear cub was sighted near the grounds. However, when Blanca Caro, the school’s police resource manager, set out to locate this potentially dangerous animal, she couldn’t turn up anything on campus. So she ventured into the surrounding area.

While walking down Boulder Street, Caro was approached by a perturbed pizzeria employee who told an amazing story. Apparently, the bear had waddled into the eatery through a side door and made a beeline for the prep room. Foregoing the pizza ingredients, this hungry little critter lapped up some cinnamon bread icing before taking a nap on the backroom shelves. An officer from Parks and Wildlife arrived in short order to tranquilize the adorable freeloader. Nicknamed “Little Louie” after the pizza shop he’d invaded, the bear spent four months at the Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center before being released into the wild in January, 2016.


In his 2011 book The Great White Bear, science writer Kieran Mulvaney retells the true story of a polar bear who took umbrage with the flash unit on one very expensive camera. Former marketing director Robert Buchanan helped found the conservation group Polar Bears International in 1992. Now a world-renowned organization, PBI has come to play a big role in expanding our scientific knowledge of the Arctic’s most charismatic predator. As part of this research, its members have captured hundreds of original polar bear photographs over the years. Today, PBI cameramen snag ursine close-ups from the safety of a wooden cage. However, as Buchanan explained to Mulvaney, the process used to be a lot more complicated. “Before we built the cage, we tried to take photographs with a camera that was on the end of a long pole that I’d lower down [from a height],” Buchanan said.

One day, things went awry when the camera’s flash went off right in a bear’s face. Naturally, the animal didn’t appreciate this startling burst of light, but its reaction was rather low-key. Rather than swipe at the camera, the bear calmly extended one arm. Then, with a single outstretched claw, it touched the lip of the camera’s lens. “[He] didn’t try to hit it or anything,” Buchanan recalls, “…he just hooked that claw in there and was not going to let go of that camera.” In vain, the conservationist jerked the pole around, desperately trying to free his camera. But the bear stubbornly clung on, moving its paw in concert with the unit. After fifteen minutes of tug-of-war, Buchanan was about to give up when something remarkable happened. “I’d just written off that camera, and then he looked up at me as if to smile and… took the paw off as if he was saying ‘Just don’t flash me.’”

Buchanan was more than happy to comply. “They’re very smart,” he observed. “They’re just incredibly smart.”