Safer in the Woods: Bear or Man?

Posted: Monday, May 6, 2024 at 4:32PM

Inspired from a recent comment thread I’ve seen, and was briefly a part of, I’ve decided to do my thoughts on the matter more drawn-out in a blog post. This is probably going to be a long one so hold tight.

For those who aren’t in the know, there is an interesting TikTok trend among creators on the platform to choose which one they’d rather encounter in the woods, a bear, or a man. Many of them will take the raw statistics of how much raw violent crime happens vs how many bear attacks happen, and will choose the bear.

With my experience operating computer inventory software and a little bit of programming, I don’t think the problem is that simple.

Making sure stats are comparable

There’s one thing that I’d like to point out which is glaringly wrong to me, unless I’m thinking wrong. Well, two things actually:

  • Bear encounters: The rate of bear encounters are a lot less per person than human encounters. About one out of twelve people may see a bear a year, if the number is even that. Whereas your typical human, on average, will encounter several people per day.
  • Population difference: There is a huge disparity of population between humans and bears. There are at least 330 million humans in the USA, and 340 thousand bears. So there are roughly 400 human males per bear in the USA.

So in my opinion no amount of math would be able to properly simulate what would happen if there were 330 million bears in the USA because of the fact that their natural sources of food wouldn’t be readily available to every bear so the amount of bear attacks which occur could increase more than a simple upscale via cross multiplication.

So from here on forward, the rudimentary math that I’ll be running throughout this article won’t take this into consideration.

Skewing in the disfavor of men

Because naturally, 80% or more of violent crime statistics have men as the primary suspect/convict, I’ll keep things shorter by blaming all violent crimes on men, in the contexts of this article.

Disparity of facts gathering

There is a large disparity of facts gathering involving bear attacks. From skimming articles of bear attacks, I’d guess around 20 bear attacks per year happen in the USA. But again that’s guessing, and I don’t want to do that here.

One exclusion to this is Yellowstone National Park, which unlike anywhere else keeps good records on visitors who get attacked by bears.

From their records around one bear attack per year happens within the park.

Violent crime per sq mile

Violent crime rates, including sexual assaults and rape, remained relatively the same since 2000 or so, at around 400 per 100,000 people. So scaling that back up to raw numbers; 1,320,000 violent crimes happen per year in the USA.

That may seem like a lot, but actually that is about 0.4 violent crimes per square mile, per year, going by an estimated 3,500,000 or so of land in the USA.

How that would scale in Yellowstone

Using the numbers above to scale to Yellowstone’s size, 1,500 or so violent crimes would happen per year within Yellowstone’s borders. Which shows why scaling numbers this way is flawed because anyone who’s been in a national or state park can tell you that it’s not that crazy there.

Unfortunately the park doesn’t keep its own crime statistics other than murders. So we will do a bit of guestimation and scaling up to achieve the most accurate numbers I can at the moment.

So far 8 murders have occurred in Yellowstone within its 150 years of being open, as of 2022. Comparing how much homicide makes up of all violent crime, multiplying that by 64 will give a rough estimate of the total violent crime that happens in the park.

Which means roughly 4 violent crimes per year happen in Yellowstone.

Conclusion for the overly simple

So with roughly one bear attack happening per year and four violent crimes among humans happening per year, the bear is safer, right… right???

I sometimes wish numbers were that simple too. But sadly they’re not. If you just want to accept the above paragraph as truth, go right ahead. Unfortunately my curiosity won’t let me do that.

So I’ll take it back up with the issues presented earlier in the article. It’s the fact that the more accurate way of looking at it technically, is the amount of attacks that happen per bear encounter vs per human encounter.

A couple of other statistics need to be considered here: 1. How many men visit the park on an average day. 2. How many bears there are within the park.

Adjusting for park populations

Going by the per year numbers, Yellowstone sees over 3 million visits per year, so we’ll use that as the low number. It hit its peak in 2021 over the past few years at 4.86 million within 2021.

That means that Yellowstone sees roughly 8.2 thousand to 13.3 thousand visits per day. From what I can tell, the male-to-female ratio of the US population is roughly 50/50. But to disfavor men, let’s say 30 percent of it is men.

There’s roughly 2.4 thousand to 3.9 thousand men in the park per given day. That’s right, with a daily average population of at least 2,400 men, the violent crime rate is less than 0.02 per day.

It might be easier in some contexts to look at the yearly visits made by men vs bears on the per year scale. Given the same 30%, there are anywhere between 900 thousand and 1.4 million annual male visits to the park per year. Which means there is one violent crime per 225,000 men per year.

The park estimates that over 200 bears reside in the park at any given time. I’ll round up to 1,000 for the purposes of this post. Which means that there’s 1 bear attack per 1,000 bears per year.

Final percentages

So within the bounds of our sample area, within Yellowstone, we now have guestimated percentages of the results. So drum roll please:

  • Percent chance each man would commit a violent crime: 0.00044%
  • Percent chance each bear would attack a human: 0.1%

So yes, looking by actual percentages per likely encounter, the bears are likely more dangerous.

Other things to consider

And also among this debate, there’s a few other things to consider, which I feel fit into this argument.

  • Usefulness in a crisis: If you find yourself in a sort of crisis; like an injury, fall, one of your friends keels over, bee sting anaphylaxis, etc. most men would provide a lot more value to you in a situation like so than a bear would. Even considering a bee sting anaphylaxis situation alone, the chances of a man carrying an epipen are a lot higher than a bear carrying an epipen and having the opposable thumbs to be able to use it.
  • Tameness can be a danger too: If bear populations were scaled up to the amount required to where humans would encounter them as much or more than other humans, they would likely get tame to humans. Which means they’d no longer run away from us when they have advanced warning, which I feel would make them more dangerous because they probably still wouldn’t become pets. Even handlers of zoo bears will pick times that they are not hyper to play with them, because they can accidentally harm humans pretty easily.
  • Desparation for resources: Again, if bear populations increased to even the same 330 million or so humans, their resources would get scarce to the point where they would probably consider hunting humans for food. It wouldn’t be a very good situation either.

Final Conclusion/TLDR

Man vs Bears

Even though in Yellowstone, each bear is 0.1% likely to attack a human per year and each man is 0.00044% likely to commit a violent crime; there is still a crowd that will choose the bear. This is because they’re making the decision on emotion and not statistics; even though they will uphold the raw numbers as their reason to not admit this. And I can prove that with just one simple statistic.

I’ll start out saying that rape is horrible and every rapist should be held accountable to every letter of the law, in my opinion. With that being said, much of the people siding with the bear in this comparison are operating under the premise that “rape is worse than death,” whether they say it that plainly or not is inconsequential.

So the statistic I’d bring up to counter that argument is that there is some sort of chance that someone can learn to live a fulfilling life after being a victim of rape (given that they haven’t been permanently injured or been killed in the act, which does make it worse of a tragedy than either death or rape alone, IMO), even if it’s low. The chances someone has of living a fulfilling life after being dead for too long for resuscitation, 0.00000%.

Anyway, thanks for reading my incoherent ramblings on the matter and have a good day.

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