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Are Black Bears Friendly? (Don’t Be Fooled!)

The animal kingdom is full of adorable, charismatic animals, some of which are friendlier than others. Given that teddy bears are associated with being cute, cuddly and warm, you might think that the animal they represent might hold some of these traits. There’s no denying that animals like black bears are cute, but are black bears friendly?

Black bears

Black bears (Ursus americanus) once found essentially all throughout Canada and the United States now have a patchy distribution throughout North America. The black bear is one of three species of bears found in America with the other two being Brown bears (also known as Grizzly bears) and polar bears.

Black bears are the smallest of the bear species found in America. They vary in size depending on their location and sex, but can be anywhere from 90 to 500 pounds with males growing much larger than females.

Are black bears friendly?

Simply put, no, black bears are not friendly. As humans, we often assume that any wild animal that is not actively trying to run away or worse, trying to attack us, is friendly. But the truth is, wild animals are not friendly and should be treated as such.

Sure, wild animals like black bears may approach you with caution and curiosity, but this does not mean that they are friendly. That being said, by nature, wild animals are not mean, vicious or malicious on purpose. Most negative or dangerous interactions with wildlife are normally a result of the animal feeling threatened and needing to defend itself.

What is the friendliest type of bear?

Black bear on the grass field.
Black bear on the grass field.

As mentioned above, wild animals, especially bears, should not be assumed to be friendly. But, if we are measuring “friendliness” by the number of conflicts or attacks each year, then black bears could be considered the “friendliest” out of the North American bears, however it’s more appropriate to say that black bears are the least dangerous.

These bears rarely have conflict with humans that ends up being dangerous or deadly, whereas brown bears (also known as grizzly bears) are known to be a bit more defensive and prone to putting up a fight. Black bears on average attack one person per year in North America whereas brown/grizzly bears attack 11 people per year.

Are black bears dangerous?

Black bears definitely have the potential to be dangerous. That being said, most wildlife that can bite, scratch, or pass disease has the potential to be dangerous. Black bears tend to be fairly timid and avoidant of humans, so the chance that you would run into a black bear without it running away from you first is probably pretty slim.

However, if you come across a female black bear with cubs then their maternal instincts may cause them to be a little bit more defensive than just a lone bear on its own. Mother bears can be very protective over their young, so it is even more important to give them their space.

Do black bears scare easily?

Black bear crossing the road.
Black bear crossing the road.

Perhaps one of the main reasons why conflict between black bears and humans is so infrequent is because black bears are scared away easily. Black bears, if approached, will often run off and maybe even climb up into a tree to get away from a potential threat.

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In fact, if you encounter a black bear it’s recommended to stand your ground and make yourself look big and make as much noise as possible to scare them off. This tends to be pretty successful as black bears prefer to avoid any and all conflict with humans.

Are black bear cubs friendly?

Black bear cubs
Black bear cubs | image: Pixabay.com

As babies, black bears are less of a direct threat as they are obviously not as big as their parents. They may be overly curious and even exhibit charismatic behaviors that make it seem as if they are trying to be affectionate towards you.

This behavior may be due to a lack of experience. For example, as young cubs, they are still learning and are less aware of their surroundings and how to perceive potential threats.

On the other hand, these curious and almost dog-like behaviors can be explained by something more sinister. Scientists in California have discovered that some young black bears exhibiting this behavior are actually doing so because of an injury or disease that affects their brain.

Can you befriend a black bear?

No, and you really shouldn’t try to either. Black bears are wild animals and ultimately are unpredictable. Even captive bears in zoos should not be assumed to be friendly or predictable.

Bears are not considered to be social animals, so there really is no reason or need for them to try to maintain a relationship with other bears and especially not humans.

There are stories of people encountering black bears on hunting or fishing trips where they seemingly develop a bond with a bear after sharing their catch with them. While this sounds heartwarming and sweet, the bear is ultimately interacting with them for their own gain, not for companionship. Not to mention, these stories could go a different way if these people could not offer the bear what they were after, in this case, food.

Do black bears attack pets?

Black bears tend to stay away from residential areas and people and their pets. However, in more rural areas, black bears will occasionally go after people’s cats and dogs. This is pretty rare though, as most black bears can be scared off by even small barking dogs.

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About Samantha Smith

Samantha is a wildlife biologist with degrees in animal behavior and environmental biology. Most of her work has been with reptiles, however she has also worked with birds and marine organisms as well. She enjoys hiking, snorkeling, and looking for wildlife.