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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Encounter With A Grizzly

"This is very strange. At this point, we're still trying to determine what happened and why."
"He was in poor condition, but he wasn't starving. He wasn't emaciated at this point. He hadn't put on the fat reserves over the summer to hibernate. That's why he was still out at this time of year."
"We found no obvious attractants that the property owner may have left around. In fact, we were very impressed with the care and management of bear attractants at this property. There was not even a barbecue on the porch."
Ryan Hennings, manager, enforcement and compliance, Conservation Officer Services Branch, Yukon
Claudia Huber
Claudia Huber is pictured with her husband Matthias Liniger and the couple's dog Kona. Facebook photo
It is no mean matter to live in the Canada's north and hope to be intelligently sensitive enough about the surrounds you love, while attempting to fit yourself into them with the least possible burden to nature itself, when dire circumstances bring one face to face with an angry animal whose size, strength and ferocity are all superior to that of puny man's. A grizzly bear has claws, teeth and speed to aid his enormous strength. Man has neither, and apart from a rifle kept for protection can only hope for the best in a grizzly-human encounter.

This week the Yukon conservation service is attempting to put all the pieces to a puzzle together to help them understand just what went wrong in careful calculations meant to ensure that such an encounter would not take place. Mindful in the process that there are general expectations and then there are anomalous occurrences that simply fail to fit an expected pattern. The incident at a small community called Johnsons Crossing, about 140 kilometres southeast of Whitehorse represented one of those painful anomalies.

Last Saturday morning Matthias Liniger was forewarned that something unusual was occurring when he heard his dog barking furiously. The dog was alerting Mr. Liniger and his wife, Claudia Huber that a bear had lumbered onto their property. When Mr. Liniger ventured outside to calm the dog, he saw the bear and ran back inside to grab his rifle. While he was busy doing that, the bear crashed through a window of the house.

Claudia Huber, right, was attacked on Saturday morning by a male grizzly bear on their South Canol Road property near Johnson’s Crossing. Huber later died of her injuries at the Teslin Medical Centre.

That led Mr. Liniger and his wife to run outside, the bear chasing them. Though a large, lumbering animal a Grizzy can cover a lot of ground, quickly and it soon caught Ms. Huber, inflicting grave wounds on the woman. Her husband got off a shot good enough to kill the bear outright, and then he proceeded to take his wife to the closest medical centre, the Teslin Medical Centre, where she died of her injuries as attempts at resuscitation failed.

Mr. Hennings described the grizzly as about 25 years of age, a male, and that would be about the age limit in the wild for such beasts. It was underweight, weighing about 160 kilograms, where the average weight of an adult male grizzly should be between 200 to 225 kilograms. The bear was obviously underfed and possibly in ill health, either as a result of advanced age leaving it weakened and incapable of to hunting adequately for nourishment, or because of its malnourished state. In any event, it was in a foul mood.

That desperately bad mood was responsible for two deaths, that of forty-two-year-old Claudia Huber, and the grizzly itself. Surely, its time, in the natural order of a grizzly's life expectancy had come; Claudia Huber, but for a quirk of unkind fate would have had many happy and satisfying years yet to come. Mr. Hennings, the wildlife specialist, is puzzled, feeling that hunger pangs alone would not account for the bear's aggressiveness. And nothing seemed to present itself around the home as a provocation.

© Cheryl Kawaja/CBC
Breath of the Wilderness, which Huber helped run, is an adventure company that operates in all seasons.

Other than that the survival imperative for such an animal should have drawn it to  hibernation at this time of year when the weather has turned toward winter. And because it is so cold, no vegetation is left for browsing bears. Most other bears in the area would be in deep hibernation mode by now. Investigators are awaiting the results of tissue samples analysis in an effort to discover the missing pieces of the puzzle.

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