The findings came in a study in which people and bears were fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) transmitters.
“The conclusion is that bears are relatively unthreatening for people,” said Göran Ericsson, researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Umeå.
The bear study was carried out in Dalarna, central Sweden. Ten female bears and two researchers were fitted with the GPS transmitters, which made it possible to test how the bears reacted when the researchers approached them.
The bears usually reacted when the researchers came within 250 metres. Some walked away silently and carefully, but most stayed where they were and tried to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible. When the researchers came within 40 metres they fled.
Only on two occasions did the researchers actually see the bears, and they never experienced bears behaving aggressively.
“The bears reacted as we expected them to. They padded away without making a big fuss about it,” said Ericsson.
He pointed out that opinion polls show that Swedes are more scared of bears than any other wild animals. People’s views are logical in a sense, as a bear could easily kill a person.
The Swedish bear population has grown significantly in the past 15 years, and there are now 2,300-2,900 of the animals in Sweden. Despite this, few Swedes have seen a bear in the wild, and the new study confirms previous research indicating that the animals are keen to avoid contact.
“A similar study involving male bears has been carried out in Finland, giving the same result,” said Ericsson.