Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad
Bear chases family into lake

Family gets shock at quiet anniversary picnic

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 28/02) - A family of three ran for their lives from a black bear last weekend, escaping into a boat on Prosperous Lake where they gathered in a trembling embrace.

What to do if you encounter a bear

- Don't run unless you know you can make it to shelter. No human can outrun a bear, and fleeing can trigger a bear's predator instinct.

- Instead of running, raise your hands to make yourself look as large as possible and talk to the bear in a calm voice, which identifies you as a human. Complain about your in-laws, talk about the weather -- or politely ask the bear to leave.

- Back away slowly while you talk. If the bear follows, stop. When the bear stops, move off its path.

- If the bear keeps walking toward you, fall to the ground on your stomach, protecting your neck and face areas. If the bear tries to roll you, roll through back onto your stomach.

- If it attacks, fight for your life, aiming for the bear's nose and eyes.

Source: Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development

It started out as a nice picnic with some fishing at Tartan Rapids, a celebration of three years of marriage for Craig and Violet Walters.

The couple and their 16-month-old daughter, Mahala, took their 16-foot boat on Prosperous Lake last Saturday and walked down to Tartan Rapids early in the afternoon. Craig had heard there was good whitefish at the location and wanted to do some fishing.

There hadn't been any reports of bears in the area, and he left his hunting rifle in the boat.

After a few casts, he lost his hook to a fish, so he walked back to his cooler to pick up another hook and a Pepsi. Then he saw the bear right in front of him. He thinks it weighed about 150 kilograms -- a full-grown male black bear.

"I took out my knife and yelled and threw rocks and stomped the ground and growled. I threw whatever I could get my hands on -- my Pepsi, I think my fishing rod went in there, too."

Woofing and puffing its face, the bear backed up to the treeline. Craig yelled at Violet -- who was screaming and crying -- to hurry back up the trail to the boat. As she ran with the baby, he followed her, brandishing a stick and throwing rocks at the bear.

The bear followed through the trees.

When Craig got to the boat, Violet had already untied it and was ready to take off. Craig jumped in and pushed away from shore. But the bear followed.

"The bear continued to come out after us in the water," he says. "So I started up the motor and tried to run it over."

The bear paddled back to shore faster than the boat could get there.

"It literally laid down on the sand and watched me," said Craig.

That's when he got scared.

"I continued to shake and hugged my family harder than I've ever done before," he said. "I was terrified. But I just couldn't let it go any closer to my family."

Might have been looking for baby

Craig reported the incident to the wildlife officer. He suspects the bear could have been after a number of gutted fish left on shore by previous visitors.

Or it could have been after his daughter, a small target on shore.

This Monday, wildlife officers set out a trap near the rapids.

Raymond Bourget, a senior wildlife officer, said a woofing bear is often distressed, not predatory. Once it is trapped, officers will determine whether or not to destroy it, based on whether they think the bear's actions were predatory or in self-defence.

A bear can be killed because "it has already showed aggression to people and learned form its experience that it can behave that way and get away with it," said Bourget. "That means that it could get more aggressive in the future."

Meanwhile, Bourget is warning people not to leave garbage scraps or fish remains on shore after camping, since such giveaways can attract bears to an area. And, he said, "if you see fish guts and garbage, fish or camp in a different location. Don't stick around there."

Two bears have already been trapped this year, one at Cassidy Point and one at the Yellowknife Golf Course.