British Columbia

Jogger lives to tell the tale after rare run-in with predatory black bear in southeastern B.C.

A jogger near a small town in B.C.'s West Kootenay region had a rare encounter with a marauding black bear.

Francis Levasseur spent hours in a tree in the West Kootenays as bear kept returning

Francis Levasseur was chased up a tree by a black bear, like this one seen at Minnekhada Park in Coquitlam, B.C. (Submitted by Vince Mai)

Francis Levasseur is happy to be alive and well after being chased and charged by a predacious black bear in the remote community of Hills, B.C., in the West Kootenay's Slocan Valley. 

He was out for a jog on a secluded trail during the Victoria Day long weekend, when he noticed the bear crossing the trail about 100 metres away. Levasseur stopped and, after waiting a while, noticed the bear didn't seem to be bothered by his presence, so he continued on his way.

But then the bear started approaching him, Levasseur said.

"The bear came back on the trail and then he looked at me and started walking toward me," Levasseur told CBC's Bob Keating. 

"I've had a lot of encounters with bears and I never had that kind of behaviour from a bear."

Levasseur said at no point did he run toward or away from the bear because he didn't want the animal to view him as prey, and added that he wasn't carrying any food.

Levasseur started yelling, making loud noises and waving his hands in the air, even using a large stick, to try to look big. 

Then, from 100 metres away, the bear charged at Levasseur.

"I thought well, I have to do something. I'm going to get killed," he said.

He turned, saw a tree, and instinctively began to climb it. 

The tree that Francis Levasseur climbed to avoid being attacked by an aggressive black bear in Hills, B.C. (Francis Levasseur)

The bear tried to climb another tree nearby, so Levasseur continued to scream and shook the tree in an attempt to scare it off. It seemed to work — the bear walked away. Fifteen minutes later, Levasseur figured it was safe to come down. 

However, the bear came running back, chasing Levasseur up the tree about six metres from the ground. 

The bear left and then came back every 10 minutes for two hours.

"It was really, really awful," Levasseur said. "I thought I would die from the worst kind of death you can possibly have — being ripped apart by a bear. Not fun."

Eventually, Mat Phillips, head of the Hills Emergency Services Society came along. He had heard Levasseur's yelling from his nearby home, and went out to help. Levasseur tumbled out of the tree and Phillips drove him home. 

"I was a bit bruised in the morning, just by the fall, but at least I was alive and in one piece," Levasseur said.

The Hills Emergency Services Society enlisted the help of bear biologist Wayne McCrory. He, Levasseur and Phillips went back on the trail to investigate the incident.

McCrory determined there were no cubs or prey in the area. He concluded the bear had pursued Levasseur as a predator, not to protect young or other food.

According to the Valhalla Wilderness Society, predatory black bear attacks on humans are extremely rare. A study by Stephen Herrero, an ecology professor at the University of Calgary, found 56 people have been killed by predacious black bears since 1900 in all of North America. Most of those attacks involved adult male black bears.

Another study by Herrero found that most serious bear attacks can be deterred by using bear spray — though Levasseur wasn't carrying any when he was chased, Phillips had some on hand during the rescue.

As of Wednesday afternoon, conservation officers have been unable to locate the bear.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story implied that Francis Levasseur continued jogging away from the bear after he first spotted it. Levasseur says he did not run because he did not want the bear to see him as prey.
    May 28, 2020 12:00 PM PT

With files from Bob Keating

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