A grizzly bear that killed a mother and her baby in Yukon last fall was emaciated and desperately pursuing unusual food sources at the time of the attack, according to an investigation by the territory’s government.
Valérie Théorêt, 37, and her 10-month-old daughter, Adèle Roesholt, died on Nov. 26, 2018, when a grizzly bear attacked them near their trapping cabin in the remote Einarson Lake area northeast of the village of Mayo.
Gordon Hitchcock, chief conservation officer for the Government of Yukon, said the 18-year-old male grizzly bear was emaciated to the point that it was incapable of hibernation. Additionally, it was in significant and chronic pain from having eaten a porcupine – which bears do not typically eat – and had quills penetrating its digestive system from mouth to stomach.
“This bear had started turning to uncommon food sources,” said Mr. Hitchcock, who presented findings of a necropsy in Whitehorse on Wednesday.
He said that evidence suggested Ms. Théorêt and her daughter died in a predatory attack, which he described as when an animal silently approaches other animals, preying on them for food.
“Humans don’t fit the prey profile for bears; in other words, bears do not see humans as prey,” Mr. Hitchcock said. “Predatory attacks by bears on humans are very rare. All available evidence suggests there was nothing Valérie could have done to stop this predatory attack.”
Ms. Théorêt’s partner, Gjermund Roesholt, had been returning to the cabin after checking on a trap line the family had been maintaining when a bear charged at him. He fired four shots, killing the bear. Nearby, he discovered the bodies of his wife and baby daughter.
A coroner’s investigation concluded that Ms. Théorêt’s injuries were consistent with the bear striking and biting her, and that those injuries quickly proved to be fatal. Adèle suffered injuries to the head that were “instantly incompatible with life.”
The coroner’s service said it appeared the two had been out for a walk when the bear attacked.
Mr. Hitchcock said his office’s investigation showed that Ms. Théorêt and Mr. Roesholt were well experienced in the backcountry and that their deaths are made even more tragic by the fact they took proper precautions to prevent such incidents.
They maintained a clean camp, for example, keeping bait for their trap lines in a pen across a lake and harvested meat in a locked container at a distance from their cabin to prevent unnecessary wildlife conflicts.
“To say the victims were in the wrong place at the wrong time sounds trite, but our investigation shows that, more than anything else, this was an unfortunate tragedy and little could have been done to prevent it,” Mr. Hitchcock said.
He said that while grizzly bears typically hibernate from around November into late spring, it’s not unusual to see bears staying up into November and December, and sometimes even January. As well, Yukon experienced a mild winter and late spring last year, which can affect bears’ natural food sources.
The investigation did not look at environmental factors that could have contributed to the bear’s state of starvation, but Mr. Hitchcock described it as “pure wilderness, pure habitat.”
His office is in contact with counterparts in other jurisdictions and will be looking into the matter further “so that we can provide better insight in understanding how unusual this is and why it is happening,” he said.
Heather Jones, Yukon’s chief coroner, said her office is releasing this information and acknowledging the last moments of Ms. Théorêt and Adèle’s lives to provide dignity and respect to them by not seeing them as statistics.
“The goal for this process is to offer means for all of us in this room and beyond to gain an understanding of what occurred,” she said, “so we and, most importantly, the families, can move forward towards closure of this tragic event.”
The coroner’s service recommended continued educational efforts on the risk of bear encounters including messaging on carrying deterrents such as bear spray.
In 20 years, Yukon has had three fatal grizzly bear attacks, Mr. Hitchcock said: one in October, 2014, one in April, 2006, and one in July, 1996.