August 3, 2001

Mauled campers weren’t warned about bear

Wardens should have done more, say victims.

AARON SPITZER
Nunatsiaq News


IQALUIT — Park wardens knew that a polar bear was in Katannilik Territorial Park last week but didn’t warn the campers who were later mauled by it.

Alain Parenteau, 31, and Patricia Doyon, 25, both of Quebec, suffered multiple lacerations when they were clawed and bitten by the bear July 27.

The bear halted its attack when their fellow camper, 32-year-old Eric Fortier, stabbed it with a pocketknife. Parenteau and Doyon were medevaced to Iqaluit and are expected to make a full recovery.

But the victims say the mauling — the first ever in the park — was preventable. They accuse park officials of not telling them a bear was in the area.

“We obviously have a beef with them,” Fortier said.

The day before the attack, a park officer spotted the bear emerging from Soper Lake, which is a few hundred yards from the spot of the mauling.

According to David Monteith, the director of parks and tourism for the Nunavut government, the officer reported the sighting to a park warden in Kimmirut, who returned to the lake that day and searched for the bear.

“He went to the site … and looked at the tracks and where they were heading, and spent the afternoon just trying to find some evidence of the bear,” Monteith said.
“It was his feeling that the bear had left.”

The warden then returned to Kimmirut. He didn’t report the sighting to Monteith or other parks officials in Iqaluit.

The mauling occurred that night.

While the injured campers don’t blame park employees for the attack, they say more could have been done.

“They knew a bear was out there,” said Anne Dumouchel, the fourth member of the camping group. “The least they could have done is posted a warning (at the campground).”

“We would obviously not have camped there,” Fortier said.

Bear info inadequate?

The campers say they weren’t even aware bears were a danger in the park.

“We obviously have a beef with them.”
— Eric Fortier, camper

They complain that the Katannilik Park registration booklet, which is given to all park visitors, doesn’t mention bears or bear danger.

Moreover, they noted, a popular guide to the park, The Soper River Guidebook, states that polar bears “do not come into the Soper Valley.”

That book was written in the mid 1990s — a time when the animals weren’t sighted in the area.

But, according to members of Kimmirut’s hunter and trapper’s organization, bears have become more numerous in Katannilik in the last few years.

Dumouchel said the territory must make information about bears more available to tourists — “Not in the future. Right now.”

“We just want the information to be out so that people like us, who are doing backcountry adventure, are told that there are bears.”

Monteith said his staff would take a hard look at its policies about warning tourists about bears.

He said stickers will be affixed to the guidebook, updating readers on the status of bears in the park.

But he said lots of information is already available to visitors.

“We’re obviously continually making people aware that when you come to Nunavut, you’re in an area where there’s wildlife. You should be aware of potential incidents.

As you go through Katannilik, be aware that you may encounter a bear.”

Bear not found

Following the mauling, park officials closed the park and conducted an extensive search for the bear. It was not located and the park reopened Wednesday.

Monteith said the campground where the attack occurred will remain closed for the near future, and park officials will monitor the area several times a day.

The site has been baited in attempt to lure the bear back to the area, he said. If it is found, it will be destroyed.

Monteith said all park visitors will also be warned to watch out for the bear, and will be briefed on bear safety.

Olayuk Akesuk, the minister of sustainable development, said he has called for an independent review of bear safety in the territory’s parks.

The review is expected to take three months.