Ani Haas on the Today Show.  Photo Credit: Big Haber

Niles G. Jeran, Global Animal

When stumbling upon a predatory animal— a wolf, bear, or mountain lion— it’s instinctual to turn and run. But that instinct can prove fatal, as Ani Haas of the US ski team nearly learned.

Haas, while on a run near her Montana home in Missoula, was charged by an enraged bear after she accidentally came too close to the bear’s cubs and sent them scrambling up a tree. In a panic, she broke into to a sprint. But as she glanced back, the black bear was closing ground.

As she quickly turned to face the lunging bear she picked up a rock and fended off the attack.  After a tense stand off, the bear backed down and Haas escaped the bear with only a few scratches.

In most cases, wolves, bears, and mountain lions avoid people. But not always.  Here are a few tips to keep you alive when confronted by a territorial or dangerous animal.

1. Avoid direct eye contact.  Though it is imperative to keep your eyes on the animal to assess body language and aggression , direct eye contact is a challenge that will antagonize the animal.  Stare at the animal’s torso instead.

Photo Credit: VIER PFOTEN/Knöpfer

2.  Don’t run! Predatory animals instinctively give chase. When you turn and attempt to flee you become prey.  Stay put and stand your ground,  making yourself seem as large as possible by raising your hands and puffing out your chest.

3.  Look threatening. Though you don’t want to directly challenge the animal,  appearing ferocious can deter an attack. Be loud, clap your hands, throw small rocks to scare the animal away. If you appear threatening, the predator may refrain from attacking.

4. Leave the animal an escape route. In most cases, the animal is just as frightened as you and will look to escape.  But If cornered, the animal will attack.  You don’t want to hurt or be hurt bythe predator, so leave an opening to scramble away.

5. Slowly back away from the animal. While avoiding eye contact, retreat while maintaining a large posture.

Encountering animals in the wild is a rare and exciting experience that can occasionally prove dangerous.  But this can be avoided by learning about wildlife in your area and being prepared when venturing into the wilderness.  Simple things like making noise, keeping food properly stored, and traveling in groups can help you avoid danger. But in the off chance you do have a face to face encounter like Haas, remember to stay calm and realize that the animal most likely means no harm.

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