How to Survive a Bear Attack & 5 Other Wild Animal Encounters

A woman was shocked when she surprised five bears going through her garbage in Orlando, Florida. Her shock turned to horror when one of the bears attacked her, getting her head in its mouth and dragging her toward the woods. But the bear suddenly released her and she got away. She has 40 staples and stitches in her head but is thankfully alive.

Wild animal attacks are rare; usually they are scared of humans and just want to get away from you. But if you surprise them, this is when they can go into defensive mode and attack. Here's how to survive six wild animal attacks.


Bear attack. Of all the wild animal attacks, bears can be the most confusing to defend yourself from. Grizzly bears can be more aggressive than black bears, and your chances of survival if one attacks increase if you do certain things -- but they are polar opposites for each type of bear. For grizzlies -- located in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho -- if you see one coming at you, you want to keep your eyes on it and back away slowly and quietly. For black bears, you want to make noise and try to scare the animal away. If you can't tell the difference, it's probably safest to make noise and try to scare the bear.

If the bear actually gets as far as to attack you, as it did the Orlando woman, you want to fight back. Punch, kick, and go for the nose or eyes. If that doesn't work, then be passive, curl up in a ball, and protect your head and neck.

The best defense, however, notes Christine Wilcox, a research scientist with the National Resources Defense Council, is bear spray -- much like Mace for animals. It can work with other animals too.

Coyote attack. A coyote attack is rare and would most likely only happen if the animal felt threatened. It's best if you are walking where there might be coyotes to make noise as you walk, so the animal knows you're there and can leave. You can walk with a bell. If a coyote attacks, fight back the best you can -- kicking and punching.

Snake attack. "Snakes are tricky," says Wilcox. Making noise won't deter a snake, so your best bet, if you see one, is to get away from it. You can back up slowly, keeping your eyes on the reptile, or simply run -- a snake won't catch up with you. If it bites you, it will usually bite just once, it won't latch onto you. So once it releases you, get out of there quickly.

Raccoon attack. Raccoons can burrow in your garbage or garage looking for food, so to try to avoid surprising one, make noise as you enter. Fighting a raccoon is likely to be extremely challenging, but if one attacks, try to bite it. "It's not the most hygienic way to fight back, but it can be effective," says Wilcox.

Squirrel attack. Odd to think of a cute little squirrel attacking, but ooohhh they can. "Squirrels attack when someone is trying to feed or pet them," says Wilcox. If one does, it will usually go for your face, so grab the squirrel off of you and then throw it far from you. Then run.

Shark attack. While it seems like we read about shark attacks every day, the reality is it's very rare. If a shark attacks, it likely mistook you for easier prey. Should you find yourself in the unenviable position of coming face to snout with a shark, marine biologist Jeremiah Sullivan says not to panic. Try to remain calm. "Screaming and splashing is the worst thing to do," says Sullivan. "That just stirs them up."

As hard as it might be to remain calm in the face of such a fearsome creature, keep your eyes steadily on the animal. Sharks apparently do not like being stared at. Now slowly back away. If it starts to attack, it will likely "bump" you first -- and you have a chance to push its snout away from you. You can also tap it on the nose. A shark, not expecting any trouble, will likely leave you alone. But in case it doesn't and actually bites you, now is the time to fight for your life by punching or kicking it in the nose or gills.

Remember, the best way to survive a wild animal attack is to avoid one. Keep food securely locked and use common sense. Do not approach an animal -- not even a squirrel -- too closely. Do not try to get a selfie with that bear! If you're in an area with wildlife, travel in packs and be loud.


Image via Paul Souders/Corbis

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