Two people and their dog have been killed in a rare grizzly bear attack in Canada’s Banff national park, and the bear was later killed by park rangers.
The couple have not yet been identified but “loved the outdoors and were inseparable”, a family member said in a statement.
“They lived for being in the backcountry and were two of the most cautious people I know. They knew bear protocol and followed it to a tee.”
According to the family member of one of the deceased, the common-law couple checked in daily while in the backcountry, including on Friday at 5pm when they sent a notification they had arrived safely at camp in the Red Deer River Valley, an area of steep cliffs and rugged terrain west of Ya Ha Tinda Ranch.
Later that night, park staff received a distress notification from a satellite device requesting help following a bear attack. A specialized team that handles wildlife attacks was immediately dispatched but was hampered by poor weather and unable to use a helicopter.
The team traveled by foot throughout the night and arrived at the remote campsite around 1am Saturday morning, where they found the couple and their dog had died in the encounter with a grizzly bear.
The bear was demonstrating “aggressive behaviour” and was killed by Parks Canada “to ensure public safety”. The RCMP arrived hours later to transport the victims to Sundre, a town nearly 50 miles east of the attack.
“This is a tragic incident, and Parks Canada wishes to express its sincere condolences to the families and friends of the victims,” the agency said in a statement.
The fatalities were the first in half a century within the border of Banff national park, although the region experienced a spate of attacks in the summer of 1980 by the “Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek” – one of which was fatal.
Experts say bears typically leave the area after a “defensive” attack, including when they are startled by humans. But when the Parks Canada team arrived, they found the bear still with the victims. Predatory attacks are exceedingly rare.
Biologists will conduct a necropsy of the bear and then Parks Canada will complete a forensic investigation of the site to determine what might have happened to the victims.
Kim Titchener, a friend of the victims’ family and the founder of Bear Safety and More, said that in the autumn, bears enter a state known as “hyperphagia” and have an increased appetite ahead of the winter hibernation. The heavy feeding by bears, popularized by “Fat Bear Week” is their final attempt to amass enough fat before winter.
“They’re trying to eat as much as they can are still really active in the fall. People sometimes think ‘Oh it’s getting cold out so we’re not going to run into bears.’ But they’re still in the valley bottoms feeding on vegetation. And you can certainly encounter them.”
Titchener said while the seasons can play a role in bear behaviour, the “sheer number” of people heading outdoors is by far the biggest factor of an increase in human-bear encounters.
“There are only 60 grizzly bears in Banff and less than 1,000 in Alberta. They’re a threatened species. People say we have too many bears. No – we have too many people,” said Titchener, adding that the majority of those headed into the backcountry don’t take bear safety courses.
“Half the time when people get attacked by carnivores, they’re doing something that’s risky or they don’t have the right gear. But at times, and I suspect this was the case, you have something tragic where it’s the wrong place, wrong time.”