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Study: Humans to blame for half of large carnivore attacks

"All the cases can be attributed to a defensive behavior," researcher Vincenzo Pentariani said of bear-human interactions in Spain's Cantabrian Mountains.
By Brooks Hays   |   Feb. 4, 2016 at 11:52 AM

HUELVA, Spain, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- New research out of Spain suggests human carelessness is to blame for roughly half of all large carnivore attacks.

Scientists with the Spanish National Research Council say humans too often take a careless approach to their time spent outdoors -- running while it's dark, leaving children unattended or walking with an unleashed dog. Even worse, according to CSIC researcher Vincenzo Pentariani, is approaching a female carnivore with young or a wounded animal.

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Part of the problem is that many people lack the knowledge and experience to avoid dangerous interactions with large carnivores.

"For this reason, the attacks can decrease a lot if we learn how to act when we are in nature," Pentariani said in a news release.

"This is not to limit public access to areas occupied by large carnivores or, as done in the past, to pursue them, it is to coexist with them," Pentariani explained. "We can't go out into the countryside as we go to the shopping center."

Pentariani and his colleagues looked at the circumstances surrounding brown bear attacks in Spain's Cantabrian Mountains. In 40 years there have been only 38 reported attacks.

The researchers' analysis -- detailed in the journal Scientific Reports -- suggests none were attributable to abusive or aggressive behavior on the part of the bear.

"All the cases can be attributed to a defensive behavior as an answer for approaching a female with young and other stress factors, like walking with an unleashed dog or that the bear was previously hurt," Penteriani said.

Interactions between large carnivores and humans has increased over time in Spain, as it has most places. Researchers say this is largely the result of human development encroaching on the habitat of wild animals.

Often, those venturing into wild habitat and the territories of large animals are those from developed areas where human-carnivore interactions are non-existent. Education, researchers say, is the key.

"Prevention and information that can encourage appropriate human behaviour when sharing the landscape with large carnivores are of paramount importance to reduce both potentially fatal human-carnivore encounters and their consequences to large carnivores," researchers concluded.

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