A look at how to avoid a bear encounter after fatal attack in Banff National Park

A look at how to avoid a bear encounter after fatal attack in Banff National Park
A grizzly bear and its two cubs are seen in the Khutzeymateen Inlet near Prince Rupert, B.C., on June 22, 2018.

An Alberta bear expert who’s a family friend of one of two people killed by a grizzly bear in Banff National Park says the couple was experienced in the outdoors and could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Kim Titchener, who has a company called Bear Safety and More, said both the couple and their dog died in the backcountry on the weekend.

“These were very experienced outdoors people. I don’t know if they had bear spray on them. I highly doubt they had food sources that were left out,” she said in an interview.

“This might be a wrong place, wrong time situation.”

Parks Canada has not provided those details, and did not immediately respond to a request for an interview Monday.

The federal agency said in a statement Saturday that its dispatchers received an alert at about 8 p.m. Friday from an inReach GPS device about a bear attack west of Ya Ha Tinda Ranch, which is about 200 kilometres northwest of Calgary.

It immediately sent its Wildlife Human Attack Response Team to the area by ground because it could not use a helicopter due to weather conditions in the mountains. The team arrived at about 1 a.m. Saturday and found the two people dead, the statement said.

READ ALSO: Two killed in bear attack at Banff National Park, grizzly euthanized: Parks Canada

Parks Canada said the team encountered a grizzly bear displaying aggressive behaviour and killed it to protect the public.

Titchener said she doesn’t know what happened in this case, but noted that it’s already dark at 8 p.m., so it’s believed the couple had already set up camp.

Some of the possibilities, she said, include a bear that was surprised when it was protecting a carcass or cubs, or that the grizzly reacted to the couple’s dog.

“Dogs are perceived by carnivores as a threat,” said Titchener. “If (dogs) approach a bear that has cubs with it or it’s on a carcass, they perceive them as a threat to their food source or their young, they will chase a dog.

“If the dog runs back to the owners … then the people are perceived as a threat as well and the bear will attack the people.”

The Red Deer and Panther valleys from the Snow Creek summit east to the national park boundary, and north to Shale Pass remain closed as a safety precaution until further notice.

Banff National Park, which is Canada’s first and busiest national park, is home to grizzly and black bears.

Titchener said fatal bear attacks are still quite unusual across North America.

“It’s very uncommon for a grizzly bear to kill a person,” she said. “I know a lot of people go, ‘Oh my gosh, a grizzly attack’ but actual fatalities are quite low.

“We see a few maulings a year here and in the United States. On rare occasions, we’ll see a fatality. That, of course, is the shocking piece.”

Here’s a look at how to avoid an encounter in bear country:

  • Make noise: Call out, clap, sing or talk loudly near streams, dense forest or berry patches, on windy days or in areas of low visibility.
  • Watch for fresh bear signs: Tracks, droppings, diggings, torn-up logs, turned-over rocks or a large dead animal could all be signs that a bear has been in the area. Leave the area.
  • Keep your dog on a leash or leave it at home: Dogs can provoke defensive behaviour in bears.
  • Travel in groups: Research has shown groups of four or more are less likely to have a serious bear encounter.
  • Stay on the trails: Use officially marked trails and travel during daylight hours.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings: Do not wear headphones or earbuds on the trails.
  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it: Bear spray can be effective with some bears when used properly. Keep your backpack, poles and other equipment that could provide protection.
  • Try to stay calm if you do encounter a bear: Screams or sudden movements can trigger an attack. Don’t run. Pick up small children and stay in a group. Speak to the bear calmly and firmly. Back away slowly.

Source: Parks Canada/Alberta Parks

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2023.

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