Bears are commonplace in Whistler, where they amble across fairways and under chairlifts to the delight of tourists who’ve never seen a wild thing.
But it’s a rare day when a bear marches up to someone soaking in a hot tub and swipes the unfortunate man in the head, opening a gash that requires more than a dozen stitches to close and sealing the bear’s fate in the process.
That’s what happened Sunday, when police responded to a call from a man who said he’d been sitting in a hot tub when a blow pushed him from his perch and he turned around, bleeding and confused, to find himself staring at a black bear.
The man stood up, shouting, and fled to the house nearby. Police found the bear and shot it, acting on the belief that the bear’s behaviour could make it a risk to the public.
“In the case where the bear came close to a residence and injured someone who was sitting in a hot tub … in that case, it’s a little more serious, and for that reason the bear was destroyed,” Inspector Chris Doyle of B.C.’s Conservation Officer Service said on Monday.
The incident took place on Casabella Crescent, which is separated from Highway 99 by a strip of greenery. Police found the bear about 100 metres from the backyard hot tub in a wooded area about 15 metres from the highway.
Thursday’s incident was unusual because it didn’t involve the bear being surprised – as can happen in the backcountry when hikers stumble between a mother bear and her cubs – or “attractants” such as garbage or pet food.
The man was alone and was not eating anything when he was attacked, Insp. Doyle said.
Nor was the bear emaciated or fresh out of hibernation. The bear was male and in good health. Conservation officers will perform a necropsy to try to determine what could have influenced the attack.
Ken Otter, a biology professor at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, speculated that it could have been a case of mistaken identity.
“If you think about what the bear was seeing, he could have been seeing just a small object close to the ground,” Mr. Otter said, adding that bears prey on small mammals such as cats or groundhogs.
“It could have taken a swipe at it, thinking it was a small animal – and then when [the man] stood up and yelled at it, it probably realized its mistake and ran off,” Mr. Otter said.
Insp. Doyle said the bear stayed in the yard, pacing outside a window, for a few moments after the attack. The bear had not been previously tagged as one involved in conflicts with humans.
Whistler conservation officers tag about a dozen bears each year after human-bear encounters. Some of those are killed if they have repeat run-ins. In 2011, Whistler conservation officers killed a bear known as Jeanie after she repeatedly came to the village, cubs in tow, in search of food.
On average, more than 800 black bears and 40 grizzly bears are killed each year in B.C. Most of those cases involve bears that get used to food sources such as garbage, backyard fruit trees or compost bins.