A pair of Canadian mothers were violently mauled by a black bear while hiking a trail in northeastern British Columbia.
Leosette Canoy and her niece, Wenneli, were joined for a nature walk on Monday by her friend Analyn Shurtliff Bartolome and the woman’s teenage son. The group took off on a cross-country trail on Bear Mountain, located just south of Dawson Creek in the western Canadian province.
The group had set out to take in some of the season’s changing foliage, an activity that Ms Canoy enjoyed as she was a keen lover of the Canadian wilderness since emigrating from the Philippines nearly 15 years ago, her husband told CBC News.
The group “was looking for nice spots to take fall pictures with the autumn leaves,” Gary Hansen, Ms Canoy’s husband, told the Canadian news outlet.
It wasn’t until it was beginning to get dark that the otherwise uneventful day took a turn that not one of the hikers is soon to forget.
As the group began to head back home at around 7pm, the teenage son of Ms Bartolome heard a scuffle behind them that sounded like footsteps, but when he scoured the perimeter to find the source of the noise, he couldn’t locate it.
“When he looked back he did not see anyone, he stayed behind the group and continued on toward the trailhead,” the organiser for the GoFundMe of Ms Bartolome wrote. The young man then heard the footsteps again, but this time when he whipped around, he found himself staring down at a black bear.
“He alerted the group and turned back to find the bear charging them,” organiser and family friend DeAnna Wry wrote.
The teenager then did as the British Columbia Parks Service advises when confronted with a predatory bear: he fought back.
“Analyn’s teenage son punched the bear in an attempt to scare it off, this did not deter the bear,” the friend wrote, adding that this landed the teen with bad bruising around his ribs.
The bear then lunged for Ms Bartolome, and it was at this point that her friend – Ms Canoy – would sustain the lion’s share of her injuries as she leapt to her friend’s defence.
The pair of mothers, now severely injured by the large male black bear, lay on the ground of the trail with darkness falling. After attempting to lure the bear off again with a large stick, the teenage boy and Wenneli realised that their attempts at rescuing the women by themselves were futile.
The pair were able to reach safety and dial out to 911. When Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officers (RCMP) arrived at the scene, they found the pair of women still lying prostrate on the dirt with the black male bear encircling them.
A detachment commander for the Dawson Creek RCMP, Staff Sgt Damon Werrell, told the CBC in an interview how the bear appeared to be “guarding the victims.”
The officers shot and killed the bear and were able to retrieve the women, with Ms Canoy being medevacked to the Edmonton Royal Alexandra Hospital – nearly 600km away – and Ms Bartolome being airlifted to Vancouver.
Ms Canoy remains sedated and is on a ventilator. She has undergone more than six hours of surgery for the maiming injuries she received to her arms, head, back, and ear.
“She’s my gift from God. It’s horrific to see my wife like that. The bear chewed her up bad,” Mr Hansen, said of his wife, who he described to CBC as being a lover of the outdoors, often partaking in hiking, camping and riding ATVs.
Ms Bartoleme, while stable, remains in critical condition at an ICU in Vancouver. In her latest update shared in the online fundraiser, her family friend reported that she currently has a 50 per cent chance of losing her left arm due to injuries from the bear attack and she is at high risk of infection from the multiple lacerations running up and down her body and across her scalp.
Both women are members of the small but close Filipino community based out of Dawson Creek and are described as both being members of their local churches.
“Analyn worked very hard to provide for her family and her husband has only recently started a new job,” wrote Ms Wry in the online fundraiser, noting how the funds from the fundraiser will go towards covering the lost income and travel fees for visits with Ms Bartoleme and her husband and their two teenage sons.
Though encounters between bears and humans have been on the rise in recent years, due to habitat loss and blossoming urban sprawl, fatal attacks in British Columbia – and Canada for that matter – remain relatively rare.
According to the British Columbia Conservation Foundation, there are on average less than one fatal black bear attack on humans every five years in the province.
Both grizzly bears and black bears reside in British Columbia, with about 15,000 of the former and between 120,000 to 160,000 of the latter, meaning the province accounts for more than a quarter of all black bears in the country.
Despite living in a part of the world that plays host to so many of the large mammals, Mr Hansen admits that he would’ve suspected his family to be the last to be the victim of such a brutal attack.
“We live in Canada here, and we hear about bear attacks, but we never think it’s gonna be us, you know?” he told CBC. “And now here it is with my family, and it’s been a horrible ordeal. I’m overwhelmed.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Ms Canoy’s fundraiser had collected over $10,000, more than double what they’d initially hoped for, and Ms Bartoleme’s fundraiser had brought in more than $11,600, nearly double what they’d originally asked.