Lydia Angyiou's kids sure won't be giving her much trouble any more now that they've seen her wrestle a 700-pound polar bear.
Ms. Angyiou lives in Ivujivik, a village of 300 people on the shore of Hudson Bay in northern Quebec. One Wednesday evening earlier this month, Ms. Angyiou was walking near the village community centre with her two sons when a group of children playing street hockey nearby started shouting and pointing frantically. Ms. Angyiou, 41, turned around and saw a polar bear sizing up her seven-year-old son.
She told the children to run and raced around to get between the bear and her son. Then she started kicking and punching the animal, according to police reports. In a flash, the bear swatted her in the face and she fell on her back. With the bear on top of her, Ms. Angyiou began kicking her legs in a bicycle motion. She was swatted once more and rolled over, but the bear moved toward her again.
Siqualuk Ainalik heard the commotion and came rushing over. Seeing Ms. Angyiou wrestling with the bear, he ran to his brother's home, grabbed a rifle and headed back to the street. He fired a few warning shots. The sound diverted the bear's attention from Ms. Angyiou just long enough for him to aim and fire again. According to police, Mr. Ainalik fired four shots into the bear before it finally died.
With the help of some neighbours, Ms. Angyiou made it to the home of Nelson Conn, a constable with the Kativik Regional Police Force.
"She came in in a panic," Mr. Conn recalled in an interview yesterday. "She was obviously in shock. She was saying 'Bear. Bear.' I just took her over to our nursing station and I asked where and if the bear was dead. She said 'Yes.' "
Remarkably, Ms. Angyiou suffered only a couple of scratches and a black eye. She and the local police have been fielding calls from across Canada ever since the incident was first reported last week in the Nunatsiaq News. Ms. Angyiou, who doesn't have a telephone, could not be reached yesterday.
Meanwhile villagers are still marvelling at her courage and there is talk of nominating her for a bravery medal awarded by the Governor-General. "I've been here 24 years and I've never seen this before," said Larry Hubert, a regional captain with the police force who arrived on the scene just after the bear was shot. "For sure, she saved the kids' lives."
Mr. Hubert has known Ms. Angyiou for 15 years and he can't believe she took on a bear. He said the bear measured eight feet (2.4 metres) in length and weighed at least 700 pounds (318 kilograms).
Ms. Angyiou "is about five-foot nothing and 90 pounds on a wet day," Mr. Hubert said with a laugh. "She's pretty quiet. I'm surprised she went and did this. But I guess when your back is up against the wall, I guess we come up with super-human strength."
Ivujivik is Quebec's northernmost community, situated on a peninsula where the Hudson Bay meets the Hudson Strait. While polar bears roam the giant ice packs that float just off shore, Mr. Hubert said it's rare for them to wander into the village. He said he believes the bear that tangled with Ms. Angyiou became disoriented and was not looking for food.
"She's lucky the bear wasn't hungry," he said. "If the bear was hungry, she would have been eaten pretty quickly."
Kevin Ramsay-Turgeon, another local police officer, said villagers might spot a bear near town once a year. But no one can recall a bear getting close enough to hurt anyone.
Polar bear attacks anywhere are rare. About two years ago a research student was pushed to the ground by a polar bear in Wapusk National Park, which runs along the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Man. A colleague managed to scare the bear off by hitting it with a piece of wood. It was the first bear incident in more than 20 years in the park. The last fatal mauling in that area occurred in 1983.
However, officials in Russia have had to shoot three aggressive polar bears so far this year, according to the Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund. One bear killed a 15-year old girl in a remote village in the region of Chukotka, which is across the Bering Strait from Alaska. The organization said in a statement that "decreasing ice cover, caused by global warming, is the reason for such behaviour" because it has disrupted the bear's feeding patterns.
For Mr. Conn, the bear attack in Ivujivik was a wild welcome to the area. Originally from Ottawa, he has been in the village only about four months. "I never thought I'd see something like that," he said. "But I guess we are in [the bear's]territory, so it's something to be expected."