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NNSL Photo/graphic

Kate Tompkins was in a joking mood Wednesday as she eyed a fossilized cave bear jaw at John A.'s Paleo Emporium. On Sunday she had a real life bear encounter when a grizzly showed up at her doorstep. - Mike W. Bryant/NNSL photo

Hungry grizzly at the door

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 23/05) - Wildlife encounters come every day at Kate Tompkins' Tibbitt Lake home, but she didn't expect to come eye-to-eye with a grizzly bear on her doorstep.

It was 6 a.m. Sunday when she was roused from her sleep by her faithful dog Buddy.

Tompkins let him out to pee and he began barking wildly. She went outside to check and saw nothing.

The dog continued to bark, so bleary-eyed and naked she opened the door once again.

"I opened the door and there was this enormous, and I mean huge bear on the porch about three feet away," said Tompkins.

"He was on his way through the door, which I had just very conveniently opened for him, of course."

She screamed, which stopped the bear momentarily, and then slammed the door shut so violently that she twisted her knee - which later required physiotherapy and a cane.

Shaking with fear, she realized the bear was between her and her gun stored in the shed. Her bear spray and bangers were in her boat - also outside.

"I shook for a little while and then went back and banged some pots and pans at him," she said.

"He just sat there looking at me as if to say, 'Well, bring on the entertainment.'"

Finally the bear took off over an embankment, and she was able to get Buddy inside.

Tompkins had means to communicate with the outside world but it was a satellite phone which didn't work inside her house.

For six hours, Tompkins remained trapped inside her cabin, afraid to venture outside with the dog still barking at the unseen menace.

Around noon, with full daylight outside, she felt brave enough to run to the shed to get the gun, but her phone still wouldn't work.

"So I had to make a run for the truck, with gun in hand and drive a couple miles up the road before I could get a satellite lock to call," said Tompkins.

Less than an hour later wildlife officers appeared at her door, and began looking for the bear.

When she later looked at the animal's tracks, she said they appeared to be 12 inches across.

The bear had wandered around her cabin, over to a guest house, and into her dormant garden. He left claw marks at her door and on a window.

The brute also found his way into the back of her pick-up truck where Tompkins had stacked some garbage and a brand new propane toilet.

The grizzly tore off the cardboard packing and into the aluminum toilet itself, which cut his mouth. She later noticed that the bear left a smear of blood on her door jamb.

"I've seen lots of animals; the caribou go right through my yard some years," said Tompkins.

"I've seen lots of wolves, I've seen lots of black bears, I've seen lots of wildlife, but this is the first time I've ever seen a grizzly bear."

The bear eventually wandered towards Yellowknife, some 70 km away. Wildlife officers found it following a fence at the North Slave Correctional Centre on Tuesday, where it was shot.

Senior wildlife officer Raymond Bourget said the male grizzly was in very poor condition. It should've been denning, but was unable to because it was old and starving.

It was only the second time on record that a grizzly made its way into city limits. Another old male grizzly was found and shot by wildlife officers in November 2004 in almost the same location where this year's bear turned up.

Bourget said this grizzly could have been hanging around Ingraham Trail area all year long, even though it's far from its normal range out in the Barrenlands.

"There's potential that the bears have started to come down and to adapt to living down here and denning up and stuff," said Bourget.

"But at this point we would say it's certainly something that is unusual."

Now that she has had a few days to calm down, Tompkins said she feels privileged to have had the encounter.

"People shouldn't be afraid," said Tompkins.

"One of the main reasons I live here is because we have access to the wilderness. One of the charms of living in the wilderness is you encounter large animals."