North

Alaska woman using outhouse attacked by bear, from below

Shannon Stevens and her brother at first thought she had been bitten by a squirrel or a mink, or something small — until they looked inside the toilet.

'I got out there and sat down on the toilet and immediately something bit my butt right as I sat down'

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Management Biologist Carl Koch suspects Shannon Stevens was swatted by a black bear while using an outhouse near Haines, Alaska. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

An Alaska woman had the scare of a lifetime when, while using an outhouse in the backcountry, she was attacked by a bear — from below.

"I got out there and sat down on the toilet and immediately something bit my butt right as I sat down," Shannon Stevens told The Associated Press on Thursday. "I jumped up and I screamed when it happened."

Stevens, her brother Erik and his girlfriend had taken snowmobiles into the wilderness Feb. 13 to stay at his yurt, located about 32 kilometres northwest of Haines, in southeast Alaska.

Her brother heard the screaming and went out to the outhouse, about 46 metres away from the yurt. There, he found Shannon tending to her wound. They at first thought she had been bitten by a squirrel or a mink, or something small.

Erik brought his headlamp with him to see what it was.

'There's a bear down there'

"I opened the toilet seat and there's just a bear face just right there at the level of the toilet seat, just looking right back up through the hole, right at me," he said.

"I just shut the lid as fast as I could. I said, 'There's a bear down there, we got to get out of here now,"' he said. "And we ran back to the yurt as fast as we could."

Once safely back inside, they treated Shannon with a first aid kit. They determined it wasn't that serious, but they would head to Haines if it worsened.

"It was bleeding, but it wasn't super bad," Shannon said.

The next morning, they found bear tracks all over the property, but the bear had left the area.

"You could see them across the snow, coming up to the side of the outhouse," she said.

I opened the toilet seat and there's just a bear face just right there at the level of the toilet seat.- Erik Stevens

They figure the bear got inside the outhouse through an opening at the bottom of the back door.

"I expect it's probably not that bad of a little den in the winter," Shannon said.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Management Biologist Carl Koch suspects it was a black bear based upon photos of the tracks he saw and the fact that a neighbour living about a kilometre away sent him a photo of a black bear on her property two days later.

That homeowner yelled at the bear but it didn't react. It also didn't approach her but lumbered about its business, like it was in a walking hibernation mode.

Even though it's winter, Koch said they get calls all year round about bears being out.

Record year for bear problems in Haines area

2020 was a record year for general bear problems in the Haines area. Reasons for that, he said, could include the fact it was a poor salmon run year combined with a mediocre berry crop.

"It is also possible a bear couldn't put on enough fat when they go in the den, that they might be out and about more often or earlier," he said.

Koch suspects Shannon's wound was caused by the bear swatting at her with a paw rather than being bitten. Either way, the location might be a first.

"As far as getting swatted on the butt when you're sitting down in winter, she could be the only person on Earth that this has ever happened to, for all I know," Koch said.

No matter the season, Erik says he'll carry bear spray with him all the time when going into the backcountry, and Shannon plans to change one behaviour as well.

"I'm just going to be better about looking inside the toilet before sitting down, for sure," she said.

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