Sunday, July 02, 2006

Alaskan Survival Knowledge

In just about any tourist shop in Alaska you can find bear bells. They come on necklaces, anklets, or bracelets, or you can hitch them on a backpack or stick. Sometimes there's just one big one, sometimes several smaller ones. The idea is that the bells jingle when you walk and warn the bear you're coming. As a general rule bears don't want to encounter people, and if they hear something strange they'll move out rather than have a confrontation. Nervous tourists new to Alaska are often advised to buy and wear bear bells before they head out with their guide.

You can also keep an eye out for scat - droppings - that tell you what animal has been there and how recently. Guides will point them out or describe them to people; teaching them forest smarts. Moose droppings are oval pellets, compressed out of the roughage they eat. If you can't find any on the ground, just head to a store and you'll see them varnished and turned into valuable items like earrings and cocktail stirrers. Wolf scat is rare around urban areas, but usually contains fur and sometimes claws or teeth. Black bear droppings are full of berry seeds usually, but since they'll munch on anything they find there's sometimes trash in there as well. Grizzly bear sign is the easiest though. As any guide will tell you, you can recognize it by the little bells.

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