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Bear stalks biologist, eats his dog as he escapes

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Troublemakers' blamed for Alberta bear attacks


Canadian Press


EDMONTON — Mark Boyce is a bear biologist, but he sounds like a professor of adolescent psychology when he explains a cluster of bear attacks in the Rocky Mountains over the last few days.


"Young dispersing males," he says. "Typical troublemakers.


"They're trying to find a place to make a living and that's when they get into trouble. Young males are almost invariably troublemakers."


At least five bear attacks have been reported since Friday, including one on the weekend on one of Boyce's University of Alberta graduate students who was working near Nordegg in the central Alberta foothills.


A young malnourished male black bear chased the student up a tree, says Boyce, and might have killed him if the student's dog hadn't distracted the bear.


"It killed his dog, though," says Boyce. "They shot the bear and opened him up and there were its remains."


On Friday, an aggressive black bear attacked and started to eat a woman near Fort Nelson, B.C. before co-workers came to her aid.


As well, one hiker and one dirt-biker were swatted and snarled at by female grizzlies with new cubs northwest of Calgary on Saturday. The area remains partially closed while wildlife officers search for the bears.


Boyce says all the attacks fall into two classic scenarios: mothers protecting their cubs or young males staking out their turf.


Young bears are kicked out of the den in early May -- black bears at about 18 months and grizzlies at about three years. The mothers, as they come into their spring mating season, literally chase their young off because a fully grown male is quite capable of killing an adolescent it perceives as competition.


Accustomed to living close to their mothers, the young bears now have to make their own way, explains Boyce.


"They don't have a place to set up a home range. They're always bouncing around from place to place trying to find something to eat.


"Dispersing males are in troublemaking mode for about a year and a half."


Spring, he says, is a "socially stressful time for bears."


There's another factor, says Mark Gibeau, a Parks Canada bear specialist.


"It probably had more to do with a nice, sunny weekend in spring when everybody gets out into the woods."


Unseasonably warm weather has been widespread in the Prairies and into the mountains for most of the last week. More people in the back country conflict with an active ursine social calendar, which almost inevitably leads to a spate of bear attacks, suggests Gibeau.


All the victims in the recent attacks survived, although the B.C. woman was in an Edmonton hospital Tuesday with serious scalp, arm and thigh wounds.


Gibeau notes the male hiker survived even though he defied conventional bear wisdom by running away.


Running, says Gibeau, triggers a chase-it-down reflex. It's common in all kinds of carnivorous mammals, even dogs.


"If you run, the animal will chase you. The thing you're supposed to do is convince the bear that you're not a threat. The way you do that is to back away quietly."


Both Gibeau and Boyce says there's nothing unusual sparking the attacks. It's just bear business as usual.


"There's no reason for additional warning," says Gibeau. "When you're in bear country, you should always be aware."


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