Skip to main content

A Yellowknife high-school student camping outside town with friends was chased down, killed and partly eaten on the weekend in the only fatal attack by a black bear Northwest Territories officials can recall.

The bear was still near the body of 18-year-old Kyle Harry when a rescue team arrived and shot at it on Saturday.

It escaped into the bush, possibly wounded in the neck or chest.

Men armed with rifles and shotguns were searching for it last night.

The attack came at a time when bears are not long out of hibernation and hungry, but no more so than in other years, a wildlife officer said.

Territorial Chief Coroner Percy Kinney said Mr. Harry was one of six or more young people who had been camping about 25 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife in a clearing at the end of a dirt track off the Ingraham Trail, the area's main highway.

Most of them decided to go into town on Saturday, leaving Mr. Harry and a 14-year-old girl in camp, and the bear approached from the highway side, cutting them off from help, he said. In a telephone interview, Mr. Kinney described the chain of events:

"They noticed a bear near the campsite, 50 yards away or so, and they decided to put all of their belongings and everything in the tent, any food they had or anything like that, not to attract the bear any closer.

"They put everything they had into the tent, and when they came back out of the tent the bear was right there at the campsite, just a few metres away, and that prompted them both to run off into the wooded area behind, and the bear took chase after Mr. Harry and the girl managed to survive."

The chase was brief, he said. "Through the wooded area it's kind of hard to judge the distance, but it was no more than 30 to 50 yards, maybe, from where they were camping if you drew a straight line into the woods. The bear managed to catch up to Mr. Harry and maul him and kill him.

"Now the girl did look back. She went up a little rise here and looked back and did see the bear on Mr. Harry, and he was screaming for her to go get help, which she did. She kept running and eventually got back to the highway area and some people there took her into town."

Mr. Harry, a Gwitchin Dene formerly from the Inuvik area on the Mackenzie Delta, was in Grade 11 at Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife, where he lived with his stepfather, Mr. Kinney said.

The body was bitten and clawed, especially the left arm and lower back, he said. "Most of the other areas dealt with injuries, but in those two particular areas we're dealing with the bear consuming part of the flesh. It's pretty brutal, frankly."

Judy McLinton, a communications specialist with the territorial Resources Department, said officials know of no one else killed by a black bear or a Barren Grounds grizzly in the modern history of the Territories. The last fatal attack was by a polar bear in 1999 at Rankin Inlet, which now is in the new territory of Nunavut, she said.

In Yellowknife, Ms. McLinton said the government is determined to kill the bear. "We have officers out there looking now. We're bringing in some officers from other parts of the Northwest Territories to help, and we'll keep the search going until that bear is found and destroyed."

Here is the territorial government's official advice on bears.

"A bear charges at high speed on all four legs. Many charges are bluffs. Bears often stop or veer to the side at the last minute. However, if contact appears unavoidable, you have three options: Shoot to kill if you have a gun; play dead if you are attacked by a grizzly, or fight back if attacked by a black bear.

"Playing dead may prevent serious injury if you are attacked by a grizzly bear. Do not play dead during a black-bear attack or if a grizzly bear is treating you as prey. . . .

"If a black bear attacks you or a grizzly bear shows signs that it considers you prey, and you do not have a firearm, do not play dead. Act aggressively. Defend yourself with whatever means are available. You want to appear dominant and frighten the bear. Jump up and down, shout, and wave your arms. It may help to raise your jacket or pack to make you look bigger."