The body of a Calgary woman who vanished while mountain biking at a British Columbia resort over the weekend was found near her bike and was being aggressively guarded by a black bear.
Police and conservation officials said yesterday they believe the male bear attacked and killed Robin Kochorek, a 31-year-old speech-language pathologist.
The animal, which was exhibiting behaviour typical of an animal protecting its prey, was shot and killed by an RCMP officer Sunday.
"This was a predatory bear," B.C. conservation officer Paul Visentin said. "It came out and attacked her and fed on her."
Ms. Kochorek was biking Saturday afternoon at Panorama Mountain Village, about three hours southwest of Calgary in the Purcell Mountains, when she split from her group.
When Ms. Kochorek failed to meet friends later in evening, a search for her was launched, but patrollers found no sign of her.
The hunt resumed by ground and air when daylight broke the next morning. Rescue workers in a helicopter spotted her body Sunday morning - about 12 hours after she disappeared.
She was about 700 metres outside the resort area boundary, not far from the "Let it Ride" trail, a long, winding route with an "easy" level of difficulty.
"We haven't heard of anything like this," said Eric Whittle, Panorama's director of sales and marketing.
"Because we are surrounded by wilderness, we know that encounters with wildlife can occur."
It's not clear how long the woman had been there, if she had an accident while riding and the bear came upon her, whether the animal stalked her or how she died.
"We may not know exactly what happened," said Staff Sergeant Doug Pack of the RCMP's Columbia Valley detachment.
"The only two creatures on the planet aren't here to tell us."
Officials hope an autopsy will confirm the cause of death. The bear's body has also been sent for a necropsy.
Ms. Kochorek's friends and family are devastated by the news of her death.
"She was a soulful, spirited young woman who had spent a lot of time in the valley and travelling to enjoy life," said Becca Wright, vice-president of the Purcell Mountain Bike School, which offers lessons at Panorama.
"I think this incident is a reminder to us all that we can't ever take our beautiful wilderness for granted," she added. "It belongs to the wild and we are merely visitors entering at our own risk. Tread gently, respectfully and [be]aware."
Bear encounters are unusual and attacks even rarer, but when they do occur, the results can be deadly.
Since 1900, about 60 people in North America have been killed by black bears. During the same time period, between 80 to 90 people have died after grizzly attacks.
Also on the weekend, a popular trail in Banff National Park was closed when a couple biking by Lake Minnewanka stumbled upon two grizzly cubs.
The sow charged and the couple ran. The bears left the area and the couple suffered minor injuries.
Park officials said the animal was defending her cubs - a natural bear behaviour - and will not be relocated or killed.
Last week, park officials warned hikers west of Banff's Cave and Basin site that several bears have been hanging around the area munching on abundant berries.
Buffalo berries, a key food source for bears in the Rockies, have ripened earlier than usual this year, which is drawing bears to trails, campgrounds and roadways, where the bushes tend to grow.
Parks Canada has put trail-closings into effect for several areas in an effort to avoid conflict between bears and people.
Jim Pissot, executive director of Defenders of Wildlife, said that sadly, the most recent incidents illustrate what can happen if people move quickly and quietly through a forest alone or in a small group.
Outdoor enthusiasts should remember to make noise, carry bear spray, bangers, read trail warnings and know how to respond in a bear encounter, he said.
Frightened, defensive and predatory bears have all been responsible for incidents in the past.