If you’ve ever woken to find your campsite a disaster and your garbage being nosed through by an ursine invader, you’ve probably remembered the old bear-safety adage: don’t get between a mama bear and her cub. Bears will generally leave you alone, goes the old saw, as long as you don’t threaten their young. But it turns out mama bears aren’t the problem. It’s the papa bears.
In a survey of all the black bear attacks in North America over the last 110 years, scientists have found that 88% of the bears involved were in hunting mode. And 92% of those predatory bears were males. So while it’s probably still not a good idea to scoop up and cuddle a cub, the researchers suggest that being able to tell whether a bear is being predatory and then fighting back (?!) might be a better move than keeping an eye out for a baby. “With training, people can learn to recognize the behavior of a bear that is considering them as prey and deter an attack by taking aggressive action,” says the lead researcher in a release.