A mother grizzly bear with her cub attacked and injured seven teenagers on a month-long survival-skills course in Alaska on Saturday. The group was rescued Sunday morning (nine hours after the attack) and, thankfully, all seven of the teens are recovering -- even the two who suffered life-threatening wounds. But the attack raises serious questions about the backpacking trip, namely:
Where in the world were all the adults?
The group of teens -- which included two 16-year-old students, two 17-year-olds, and one 18-year-old -- was participating in a 30-day back-country course conducted by the National Outdoor Leadership School. As for why the teens were backpacking without adult instructors, Bruce Palmer, a spokesperson from the school, explained that they were on Day 24 of the course, and when they're that far along, they're allowed to travel as a student group without adults so they can learn to utilize the survival skills they learned.
Our basic goal is that when a student graduates from the NOLS course, they have the experience and background to be able to take other people out into the back-country ... We’re training people to be outdoor leaders, basically.
In this case, it's difficult to ascertain whether adult presence would have prevented the attack. (After all, this is the second bear attack this month, and the first took the life of a 57-year-old man.) The school teaches its students to fend off bears by calling out to alert them of human presence and giving nearby animals a chance to flee -- and, according to Palmer, the students did this. Moreover, they carried three canisters of bear spray as protection; however, it's unclear as to whether they used it. And you could say the school was successful in teaching the teens survival skills given that they are still with us today.
Still, perhaps the gravity of this attack on the teens (or the inevitable lawsuit?) will convince the school to change its policies: Because no matter how mature teens may be, sending them out into the back-country wilderness with little protection sounds highly unsafe and is just asking for trouble.
Image via ilashdesigns/Flickr