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Nick's story

Bear attacks are rare, but they do happen

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About Black Bear Attacks

The information that we received following the attack came from experts like Dr. Stephen Herrero of the University of Calgary who has published books on bear attacks and has studied data covering about 100 years. One of the most interesting details concerns the very entrenched idea that we should fear a female bear with her cubs, something that is not supported by evidence. The vast majority of killer-bears are male, and at the time of Nick's attack only two human deaths by black bears could be attributed to females in Dr. Herrero's database. Tragically, in July of 2000, this statistic changed when a young Canadian Olympic hopeful for Canada's biathlon team, Mary Beth Miller, was killed by a female bear (although not one with cubs) in CFB Valcartier Quebec while on a training run.

Reports of bear sightings in the area and warning signs posted were not deterrents to any of the athletes training in the area, and we were shocked when the media coverage began with, "most black bears are harmless," or words to that effect.

Our family's position is that bears are wild animals, and some black bears are predators that have eaten meat since they were born and will look for prey in the way that all successful predators work - meaning the prey will be smaller and present no defense; a small sleeping child would be an easy target, or a solitary runner. Bears should not be anthropomorphized or characterized as "mostly harmless."

I remember one acquaintance who came up to me after Nick's attack and broke down in tears as she told me that she had been trying to get a baby bear to come towards her and her six-year-old daughter in their country house yard by putting food in her daughter's hand and calling to the bear. She was appalled at herself for being so naïve about wild animals. We have begun to think that bears that frequent human habitats are not really wild animals anymore, and although research and the records of bear attacks do show that so-called "nuisance bears" rarely graduate to killing humans, thinking of any bear as just a nuisance is not wise. The killers are described as "wild bears," which have had little or no contact with people, but Nick's story tells us that the bear that attacked him had certainly come into contact with humans - when he was caught and tagged -and was considered "unusually docile." There is no totally dependable way to establish the danger presented by any bear.

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