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2 bears killed to determine if either involved in fatal attack in N.W.T.

Officials with the territorial Department of Environment and Natural Resources killed a black bear and a grizzly bear Friday near Tulita, N.W.T., where a man is believed to have had a fatal encounter with a bear.

Officials believe a bear killed a man near Tulita Thursday, the 4th N.W.T. bear fatality in 20 years

A black bear near Gameti, N.W.T., on July 9. Officials in the Northwest Territories killed a black bear and a grizzly bear near Tulita, N.W.T. It's hoped that necropsies will determine if either bear was involved in a fatal bear encounter near the community last week. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Officials with the territorial Department of Environment and Natural Resources killed a black bear and a grizzly bear Friday near Tulita, N.W.T., where a man is believed to earlier have had a fatal encounter with a bear.

Necropsies (autopsies performed on animals) will be done to determine if either bear was involved in last week's fatal encounter, said Meagan Wohlberg, a spokesperson for the department, in an email.

On Friday, RCMP said they had found the body of man reported missing Thursday morning after encountering a bear about 60 kilometres south of Tulita.

"A woman reported her travelling companion had an encounter with a bear. The man was reported missing after the encounter," RCMP spokesperson Marie York-Condon said in a press release at the time.

RCMP say the woman made contact with a second group of travellers who activated their emergency communications device. 

Human-bear encounters in the Northwest Territories are not out of the ordinary, although fatalities are rare.- Meagan Wohlberg, Environment and Natural Resources spokesperson

Police now say the N.W.T. Coroner Service is the lead agency on the investigation.

According to Cathy Menard, the territory's chief coroner, the body of the man is in Edmonton for an autopsy. The cause of death won't be official until that's complete — something which may happen as early as this week, she said — but wildlife officials count this as the fourth bear-related fatality in the Northwest Territories in the last 20 years.

"Human-bear encounters in the Northwest Territories are not out of the ordinary, although fatalities are rare," Wohlberg said.

According to statistics from the department, two of the previous fatal bear attacks in the N.W.T. involved black bears — at Prosperous Lake in 2001, and at Nonacho Lake in June 2005. The third fatal attack was by a grizzly bear in the Mackenzie Mountains in 2014.

There have been four non-fatal bear attacks over the same time period: three by grizzly bears, and one by a black bear.

According to statistics supplied by the department, the N.W.T. has what's considered a small grizzly bear population.  There are an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 grizzly bears in the Northwest Territories, of which 2,000 to 3,000 are mature. There are about 4,300 black bears in the territory.

Wohlberg said that the number of bear reports in the Sahtu region this year has been average, but that "bears have a keen sense of smell and will travel long distances if they smell attractants like garbage or food, which can bring them into close proximity with people or communities."

"Not all bear encounters are avoidable," Wohlberg said. "The best way to avoid bear encounters is to properly manage and store attractants, and to never feed wildlife."

More information on bear safety provided by the Department of Natural Resources can be found here.

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