Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Bear Spray Failure in 2003: Russian Bear Researcher Vitaly Nikolayenko

Vitaly Nikolayenko from Facebook 

Nearly 20 years ago, there was a well documented bear spray failure in Russia. A world famous bear researcher, Vitaly Nikolayenko, was killed by a bear only two months after Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard were killed and partly consumed by a bear or bears in Alaska. Nikolayenko was half eaten. 

All the bears involved were variations of the brown bear, also known as the European brown bear, grizzly bear, or Kodiak bear. 

Treadwell disdained any type of defensive weapon. Nikolayenko had bear spray and a flare gun. When Nikolayenko was late in reporting, a search team, including his long time friend, Victor Rebrikov, found his body and evidence the spray was ineffective. From archive of

"Vitaly must have begun to take pictures of the resting bear, but the tree trunks and branches were in the way, and he must have decided to get inside the grove. His footprints lead into the grove after the bear. He approached the bear at a distance of three meters," Rebrikov said.

A large swath of orange pepper spray indicates Nikolayenko tried to defend himself, and a flare gun was lying next to the body, unfired. Half his body had been consumed.

His camera was broken and bloody nearby. The film has not yet been developed. The researcher's wife, Tatiana Nikolayenko, had spent most of last week trying to find a helicopter flight to bring her husband home in time for the New Year's holiday.

Russia, since the Soviet takeover in 1917, has been loathe to allow anyone but the authorities to carry handguns.  

Nikolayenko did not view the bears as harmless as Treadwell did; he understood they were dangerous. Still, his methods of research were similar to Treadwell's eco-adventurism; he approached the bears to very close range, and depended on their tolerance for his life. In December of 2003, both the tolerance and bear spray failed. 

The fatal failure of bear spray at this early date seems to have been ignored by bear spray proponents. 

Those who promote bear spray appear primarily concerned about preventing bears from being killed (cynics claim the concern is to sell bear spray). 

The percentage of bears killed in defensive encounters with humans is relatively small where bears are hunted. Bears killed in defensive encounters are a fraction of those required to be killed to maintain a stable population. In Alaska, over 26 years, defense of life and property (dlp) killed bears were 5.1% of the total of hunter bears (sport kills, 26,489) and dlp kills (1,413).

For brown (grizzly) bears to have a stable population, more than 10% of bears must be killed each year. Whether those bears are killed by another bear, by bear hunters, or as aggressive bears confronting humans, does not matter to the the bear population. Bears killing other bears is not sufficient to keep the population stable. 

Removing bears which are aggressive toward people can change the genetics of the bear population.  Bear populations which are hunted are likely to be less aggressive toward humans.

Bear encounters are not subject to legal standards of proof. If bear spray is sprayed during an encounter, and the person is still killed by the bear; that is a bear spray failure.

Bear spray proponents may claim because of bear spray was used during a bear attack, and the bear killed the person, is not a proven bear spray failure. The bear spray may not have been the "right" brand; the bear spray may not have been deployed exactly "correctly". 

If we apply the same standard to firearms, a person killed by a bear, who is found with a fired gun next to the body, would not be a proven firearms failure. 

©2022 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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