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Woman dies in suspected bear attack in rural area northwest of Calgary


Provincial officials are investigating an apparent bear attack that was fatal in a rural area northwest of Calgary.

Alberta Fish and Wildlife officials are investigating what appears to be a fatal bear attack on private land southwest of Water Valley, which is about 80 kilometres northwest of Calgary. (Mathieu Belanger/Reuters)

Alberta officials are investigating a woman's death as a suspected bear attack in a rural area northwest of Calgary after a Calgary man was killed by a bear about 40 kilometres away earlier this month.

RCMP say they received a call Tuesday around 7 p.m. about a sudden death. A unit was dispatched to the area, but once officers determined it was a possible bear attack, they contacted Alberta Fish and Wildlife.

Alberta RCMP confirmed a 68-year-old woman had died.

Alberta Fish and Wildlife said in a written statement to CBC News that the death occurred on private land southwest of Water Valley.

"The individual had gone for a walk on their property and was found deceased on one of their trails," the statement said.

Water Valley is a small community in Mountain View County about 80 kilometres northwest of Calgary.

"Officers are still determining the identity of the bear, but a grizzly bear and a cub were seen in the vicinity of the incident. The sow was exhibiting aggressive behaviour," Fish and Wildlife said.

Officers have put up traps in the area. People in the Water Valley area are being warned to take precautions and be vigilant when they're outdoors.

Earlier this month, David Lertzman, a Calgary university professor, was fatally attacked by a bear in the Waiparous Village area, which is about 40 kilometres south of the area of the most recent apparent attack.

Fish and Wildlife officers say they do not yet have information to indicate if the two incidents are linked.

Calgary professor David Lertzman was fatally killed by a bear attack near Waiparous Village in early May.(University of Calgary)

'These are rare incidents'

Bear attacks that result in fatality are "unusual", says Sarah Elmeligi, a bear biologist based in Canmore.

"These are very rare incidents … it is far more likely to have an encounter with a bear where nothing happens," she said.

She says the site of the bear attack in Waiparous and the site of the most recent suspected attack are within a distance a bear could travel but that "it's way too early to speculate if these two incidents are related or … really awful coincidence."

Elmeligi describes this as "an in-between time" where bears mating season hasn't begun and there is still snow at higher elevations.

"We do have a higher encounter probability during the spring because people are drawn to the valley bottoms because that's where the snow free and bears are drawn to the valley bottoms, too," she said.

Elmeligi urges people who are outdoors in the wilderness to be prepared should they encounter bears.

Be bear aware

The chairman of a society that seeks to help avoid conflict between people and wildlife in Mountain View County agrees people should expect bears, and look for signs of them.

"For the most part, you're pretty safe when you're out there in bear country, if you're paying attention to your surroundings and watching for that," said Paul Fraser with Mountain View Bearsmart.

Mountain View County lies to the north of Calgary and includes Sundre, Olds, Didsbury and Carstairs.

Fraser says certain grasses, dandelion, bird feeders and later in the season, berries, will attract hungry bears.

He says people need to watch for signs like bear scat, tracks and even overturned logs.

"You really should be carrying bear spray with you should have it with you at all times," said Fraser.

Fraser says they've received more reports of bear sightings than usual through their website this year, and thinks it's because people are itching to get outdoors.

In Mountain View County, they've received reports of five grizzly bear sightings and one black bear and in nearby Clearwater County — northwest of Calgary — seven grizzly bears and two black bears.

Fraser urges people to complete bear safety training if they plan on enjoying the outdoors.

Alberta Fish and Wildlife says anyone who encounters a bear in the wild should follow these steps:

  • Stay calm and do not run. Stay with your group and keep children close.
  • Back away if you see cubs or an animal carcass. The bear will want to protect them.
  • Prepare to use bear spray.
  • Back away, leaving the way you came. Keep your eye on the bear without staring at it aggressively.
  • Look for a place to hide such as a car or building.
  • Speak to the bear in a soft, low voice. Let the bear know that you are human and not prey.
  • Use your noisemaker and prepare to defend yourself with bear spray.

With files from Dave Gilson

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