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Nick's story

Bear attacks are rare, but they do happen

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A vital piece of information that Mike had been able to give park officials about the bear was that there was a yellow tag in one of his ears; a tag that would have been put in as part of a 1994 park research program on male black bears. And so at 8 p.m. that night when Rangers spotted a large black bear clawing the ground on the very site where Nick had been attacked, and after quietly paddling close to shore to ensure that they could get a clear shot, they were able to bring the bear down and establish that this was the animal they were looking for by the tag in its ear.

The bear's body was sent to the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph for examination, although the brain was sent to Ottawa for what is called a nuclear test to determine if rabies was present. It wasn't. But as the test takes several days to confirm this, Nick still had to take the injections. The absence of rabies, or any illness, or disease or signs of starvation told the experts at Algonquin Park what they had suspected from the beginning: this attack on Nick was what is called a "true predator attack," which includes no illness, starvation or provocation.

What was a surprise to them was found in the data gathered when the bear had been tagged in 1994. At that time the animal, as a three-year-old, was only 117 pounds (53 kg) and was noted by the biologist as being "unusually docile." And then three years later it weighed over 300 pounds and was a killer.

Chief Biologist Dan Strickland wrote a long report about the attack and the bear the following year for the Algonquin Park Visitor's Newsletter - The Raven - (Vol.39, No. 5), and although this report very much downplayed Nick's injuries, it gave a lot of information about the bear.

"There was nothing inadvertent about what this bear did to Nick," states the report.

"(The bear) deliberately seized the sleeping boy and dragged him out of his tent. The bear was behaving as a predator and we have no reason to doubt that, without Mike's intervention, it would have killed and eaten Nick."

Strickland also wrote: "We should make no mistake that Mike did what he did at enormous risk to himself."

In reconstructing the events of that night he also said that it was very lucky that Mike and Michelle were unsuccessful in their attempt to use the can of bear mace as the spray could have in fact incapacitated them, with disastrous results.