Necropsy on Yukon bear may help explain fatal attack

'We appreciate the public's want for more information,' said Roxanne Stasyszyn, with Yukon's environment department.

Valérie Théorêt​ and her infant daughter were killed Monday by a grizzly at their remote cabin

A 2009 file photo of a grizzly bear in Yukon. Investigators are doing a necropsy on the animal involved in Monday's fatal attack at a cabin northeast of Mayo. (The Associated Press)

Nearly a week after a Yukon woman and her 10-month-old daughter were killed by a bear at their remote cabin, Yukon wildlife officials have so far said little about the animal involved, or what might have led to the attack.

"We appreciate the public's want for more information. And we are committed to providing more information as soon as we are able," said Roxanne Stasyszyn, with Yukon's environment department.

Valérie Théorêt and her daughter Adele Roesholt were alone at the time of the attack. The child's father later returned to the cabin and shot the bear dead when it charged at him. 

Stasyszyn says officials will do a necropsy on the animal. That will tell them the age, sex, weight, and physical condition of the bear, and hopefully provide insight into whether it was a defensive attack, or predatory.

Fatal bear attacks are rare in Yukon. Until this week, there had been only three bear-related deaths in the past 22 years in the territory — in 1996, 2006 and in 2014. All have involved grizzlies, although black bears are also common throughout Yukon.

"Generally, we tend to see more conflicts with grizzly bears that end worse — that end in a human fatality, for example," Stasyszyn said.

Looking for answers

Douglas Clark is a researcher based at the University of Saskatchewan, who's studied human-bear interactions in places such as Churchill, Man., and Arviat, Nunavut. He's also a former Yukoner who's studied bears in the territory.

As a researcher, he's curious to hear more about the bear involved in Monday's attack. But he also recognizes that it's unlikely to provide any comforting answers.

"Mercifully, these kinds of events are rare enough that it's pretty hard to pick up trends in the data," he says.

"These are real events that effect real people, and when it's your family, when it's your friends, when it's your community — the odds don't matter too much. It's all about the consequences, and the people."

'Mercifully, these kinds of events are rare enough that it's pretty hard to pick up trends in the data,' said University of Saskatchewan researcher Douglas Clark. (CBC)

Clark says it may be significant that it happened in late November, when many bears would already be hibernating. Bears typically stay active later only if they've been unable to put on enough weight to make it through hibernation, he says.  

"This is not terribly well-documented in the scientific literature, but it's very well-known to northerners ... a bear that's out late is hungry, it's gonna cause problems. It's bad news," he said.

Other bears still about

Stasyszyn agrees that late-to-hibernate bears can be trouble, because they're often hungry.

"If a bear doesn't have adequate fat stores, they're going to stay awake until they can successfully hibernate. They could be sick, or have an injury," she said.

Stasyszyn is careful though not to speculate on what led to Monday's attack. She says it's too soon to know what investigators might find. 

She also cautions that there are other bears still out and active, possibly owing to Yukon's relatively mild autumn this year. Bears have been seen recently around Tagish, Teslin and Mayo, she said.

A file photo of a Yukon grizzly. Officials says bears have recently been seen around Tagish, Teslin and Mayo. (Government of Yukon)

David Quinn, a wildlife biologist in Nelson, B.C., is not surprised that bears are still out at this time of year, but he is surprised that Monday's attack involved a grizzly.

"Very rarely, especially with grizzlies, do we have a random encounter where there's a bad outcome," he said. "I'm really curious to see what happens with this scenario."

It's not clear how long he'll have to wait for more information. Stasyszyn couldn't say how long the necropsy might take. Yukon's coroner and RCMP are also still investigating what happened.

With files from Sandi Coleman and Steve Hossack