Couple Killed by Bear in Banff National Park Experienced in Outdoors: Family Friend

Couple Killed by Bear in Banff National Park Experienced in Outdoors: Family Friend
Divide Pass in the backcountry of Banff National Park is shown on July 3, 2019. (The Canadian Press/Colette Derworiz)
The Canadian Press

An Alberta bear expert who's a family friend of one of two people killed by a grizzly bear in Banff National Park says the couple was experienced in the outdoors and could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Kim Titchener, who has a company called Bear Safety and More, said both the couple and their dog died in the backcountry on the weekend.

"These were very experienced outdoors people. I don't know if they had bear spray on them. I highly doubt they had food sources that were left out," she said in an interview.

"This might be a wrong place, wrong time situation."

Parks Canada has not provided those details, and did not immediately respond to a request for an interview Monday.

The federal agency said in a statement Saturday that its dispatchers received an alert at about 8 p.m. Friday from an inReach GPS device about a bear attack west of Ya Ha Tinda Ranch, which is about 200 kilometres northwest of Calgary.

It immediately sent its Wildlife Human Attack Response Team to the area by ground because it could not use a helicopter due to weather conditions in the mountains. The team arrived at about 1 a.m. Saturday and found the two people dead, the statement said.

Parks Canada said the team encountered a grizzly bear displaying aggressive behaviour and killed it to protect the public.

Titchener said she doesn't know what happened in this case, but noted that it's already dark at 8 p.m., so it's believed the couple had already set up camp.

Some of the possibilities, she said, include a bear that was surprised when it was protecting a carcass or cubs, or that the grizzly reacted to the couple's dog.

"Dogs are perceived by carnivores as a threat," said Titchener. "If (dogs) approach a bear that has cubs with it or it's on a carcass, they perceive them as a threat to their food source or their young, they will chase a dog.

"If the dog runs back to the owners … then the people are perceived as a threat as well and the bear will attack the people."

The Red Deer and Panther valleys from the Snow Creek summit east to the national park boundary, and north to Shale Pass remain closed as a safety precaution until further notice.

Banff National Park, which is Canada's first and busiest national park, is home to grizzly and black bears.

Titchener said fatal bear attacks are still quite unusual across North America.

"It's very uncommon for a grizzly bear to kill a person," she said. "I know a lot of people go, 'Oh my gosh, a grizzly attack' but actual fatalities are quite low.

"We see a few maulings a year here and in the United States. On rare occasions, we'll see a fatality. That, of course, is the shocking piece."