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Attraction of brown bears to red pepper spray deterrent: Caveats for use

January 1, 1998

Humans in brown bear (Ursus arctos) country may unexpectedly encounter hears with sometimes harmful consequences. Firearms may be an effective defense, but they destroy bears, their use is illegal in most national parks, and many people prefer not to carry them, Consequently, nonlethal bear deterrents have long been sought as a means of self-defense against bear attacks. In the 1970s a liquid spray containing oleoresin capsicum (the chief irritant in red peppers) was developed. This mixture could be defensively discharged at aggressive bears (Herrero and Higgins 1995), and today, several commercially manufactured products, generically called "red pepper spray," are sold for the purpose of deterring aggressive bear attacks. Many hikers, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts carry this spray for self-defense in bear country Additionally, some states (eg, Wyoming) and many national parks (e.g., Glacier National Park) highly recommend that back-country users carry red pepper spray for use in an aggressive beat encounter.

Herrero and Higgins (1998) found that red pepper spray was effective in halting aggressive brown bear behavior in 88% (1 of 16) of incidents studied. However, red pepper spray is not claimed to be a bear repellent when applied to objects. Nonetheless, instances have been reported of people applying red pepper spray to objects and around campsites in order to repel curious bears. The impetus for this study came from an observation I made of a bear rolling vigorously on beach gravels that had been accidentally sprayed with red pepper spray. To further investigate brown bear reaction to red pepper spray residues, I conducted systematic observations of bear responses to spray discharged at selected sites. I discuss those findings and their implications in this report.

Publication Year 1998
Title Attraction of brown bears to red pepper spray deterrent: Caveats for use
Authors Tom S. Smith
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wildlife Society Bulletin
Index ID 70021067
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center