- By Madeline Halpert
- BBC News, New York
A West Virginia school principal was horrified by a black bear this week when it pulled out of a dumpster outside his elementary school.
In the surveillance video that went viral, Zela Elementary School principal James Marsh was opening the lid of a dumpster when a large bear pushed him, causing a huge growl and sending Mr. Marsh and the furry creature to panic and run. .
“It was 7:15 a.m., if you’re not already awake, you will be,” Marsh told the AP.
Wildlife experts told the BBC that although the incident was frightening, the dumpster isn’t an unlikely place to meet a bear – and Marsh isn’t the only person to encounter a bear there.
“It’s very common. As the population increases, we see more and more people living in bear habitat,” said Kim Techner, founder of Bear Safety and More in Alberta, Canada. “So, unfortunately, there are more conflicts. »
North America is home to more than 700,000 black bears, which live in many US states and provinces in Canada. Although black bears are rarely aggressive, they are more likely than the other two North American bear species – the grizzly bear and the polar bear – to communicate with humans.
Some places like Marsh’s home state of West Virginia, as well as New Jersey and Tennessee, may be more ripe for bear encounters as their mammal populations grow, said David Drake, a professor and wildlife scientist at the University of Wisconsin. .
Trash cans, especially those containing food, are a great place for critters who would rather nibble on leftovers from humans’ lunch than dandelions and berries, Ms. Titchener said.
But she said many districts – including Mr. Marsh’s – do not have bear-proof dumpsters. She noted that although there was a lock on the green dumpster in the surveillance video, the bin had plastic lids — no match for the bear’s sturdy claws.
Bear proof litter boxes are made of metal and have clips to keep the doors securely closed. They are common in campgrounds and parks where bears are likely to roam.
Those who suspect their litter box can take the wrath of a bear can even send it to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in Montana. There, the staff load containers of food and test their strength by letting live bears attempt to drown in them.
Some experts have even advised those who live in areas with a lot of bears to close their refrigerators, as the creatures have been known to break into homes in search of food.
Ultimately, having more secure storage enclosures helps protect the bears themselves, as many are killed in such encounters, Titchener said.
Bears that are accustomed to finding food near humans will continue to approach people – until they are eventually killed or driven from their habitat.
“The bear feeds on a dead bear” is a common hitchhiking phrase in the United States.
But accidents can also be dangerous for humans. If someone encounters a bear in a dumpster, experts advise not to follow in Marsh’s footsteps.
Ms Titchener said: “There is never a situation with a carnivore where you have to run, because they might mistake you for prey and pursue you.”
Instead, experts said people should step back very slowly, give the bear space, speak softly, and make themselves look bigger.
Getting bear spray—a non-lethal spray made with paprika oil and other bear-deterring ingredients—can also come in handy, as not all bears will escape like the one in Mr. March’s school trash.
“He was lucky,” said Mrs. Titchener. “Children are afraid of school principals, and I think bears are, too.”