Alberta, Canada – In Jasper National Park of Canada, in the Province of Alberta, a couple’s beloved pet was taken by a black bear and killed in a predatory attack.
Bear spray was used at very close range, directly into the bear’s face. Then the empty can of spray was used as an ineffective impact weapon. It did not work well. The predatory black bear took the dog into the woods and killed it without remorse or thought. A bear, when hungry, is not a friend to other animals. The other animals, including other bears, are just a source of meat.
Parks Canada has reopened a number of trails after a black bear killed a dog this weekend. Wabasso Lake Trail remains closed.
On Saturday, April 22, 2023, at 16:00, two visitors were hiking with two dogs on the Wabasso Lake Trail. The hikers were returning to the trailhead with the dogs running freely between the hikers. They noticed a black bear had approached them within a very close proximity on the trail. One of the dogs chased the bear off the trail a short distance before the bear quickly reversed the chase. The bear came back within a couple feet of one of the hikers where the second dog was standing and barking. The bear attacked this dog. One hiker sprayed bear spray into the bear’s face at close range. The bear did not release the dog and the hiker then used the bear spray can to punch the bear in the head multiple times. The bear still did not release the dog and carried it into the woods.
This close and aggressive approach by a large black bear is very concerning behaviour. The attack on the dog and subsequent caching of the carcass, indicates predatory behaviour. This behaviour is considered a threat to public safety and a risk to park visitors. Parks Canada human-wildlife conflict specialists located the bear and destroyed it on Sunday, April 23, 2023.
The dog did what it was born to do. It alerted its master and made the threat apparent. The master had chosen a poor tool for defense against predatory black bears. There has been research indicating that black bears rather quickly recover from being sprayed with bear spray. Virtually any handgun could have been used to stop the bear attack decisively. One Canadian saved his dog from a bear with a knife.
Stephen Herrero, the noted bear researcher, explained black bears often quickly overcome bear spray in 2017:
“I don’t know why,” Stephen Herrero, the dean of bear research said Thursday evening, “but it showed up in the data.”
As in this case, Herrero said, the spray initially drove bears off, but they came back. This is, however, the first time a fatality has been associated with the failure of bear spray.
Perhaps Stephen Herrero did not know of Russian bear researcher Vitaly Nikolayenko, who was killed by a bear after employing bear spray, in 2003.
- Mark Uptain was killed by a bear after using bear spray on September 14, 2018.
- Daniel Schilling was killed by a bear after use of bear spray on July 29, 2020.
- Stephanie Blais was killed by a bear when her husband used bear spray in an attempt to drive off the bear. The bear spray failed, and the husband had to retrieve a firearm to shoot and kill the bear, on August 21, 2020.
- Carl Mock was killed by a bear after use of bear spray on April 15, 2021.
- Leah Loman was killed by a bear after use of bear spray on July 6, 2021.
These are only the fatal bear spray failures.
Bear spray proponents claim bear spray did not fail, or that bear spray was employed too late to be effective. Bear spray on the fur of the bear which killed the person is a reasonably good indicator of the failure of bear spray. Bear spray has failed many times, where firearms were necessary to stop the bear. Bear spray works, sometimes, on bears that are not determined to attack or are in a predatory mode. Bear spray is not allowed as a defense against polar bears in Svalbard, Norway.
After exhaustive searches for incidents where handguns were fired in defense against bears, only one death was discovered. It happened in 1995 in the Svalbard Archipelago. A party of thirteen split apart. The party of five relied on a .22 caliber handgun for bear protection.
Cartridge handguns have been used as protection against bears for at least a hundred and thirty years. Bear spray has been used as a protection against bears for about 20 years. One incident has been recorded where the use of a handgun was insufficient to prevent a human death. At least five incidents have occurred where the use of bear spray was insufficient to prevent a human death.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.