Alberta Fish and Wildlife staff are investigating a woman's death northwest of Calgary as a suspected bear attack, but say it's far too early to know if it's related to a fatal attack on a man a few weeks ago just dozens of kilometres away.
RCMP said Wednesday that they received a call at about 7 p.m. Tuesday about a sudden death near Water Valley, in Mountain View County, about 80 kilometres northwest of Calgary.
A unit was dispatched to the area, but once officers determined it was a possible bear attack, they contacted Alberta Fish and Wildlife.
RCMP confirmed that a 68-year-old woman had died, while Fish and Wildlife said the death occurred on private land southwest of Water Valley.
"The individual had gone for a walk on their property and was found deceased on one of their trails," Fish and Wildlife said in a written statement to CBC News.
People in the Water Valley area are being warned to take precautions and be vigilant while outdoors.
"Officers are still determining the identity of the bear, but a grizzly bear and a cub were seen in the vicinity of the incident. The sow was exhibiting aggressive behaviour," Fish and Wildlife said.
Officers have put up traps in the area.
2nd attack this month
In early May, a Calgary university professor, David Lertzman, was fatally attacked by a bear in the Waiparous Village area.
Police initially estimated the two attacks happened about 40 kilometres apart, but Kyle Juneau with Alberta Fish and Wildlife later said the distance was actually less: about 24 kilometres.
Juneau said it's possible the same bear was involved in both attacks but also noted 24 kilometres would be a long distance for a sow with a cub to travel.
He said DNA tests are underway to determine if it was the same bear.
"We've submitted everything, all the DNA samples from this incident scene, to our lab yesterday," Juneau said Thursday. "And in the coming days, they will be able to determine whether or not it was the same offending bear."
He also said that, in both cases, Fish and Wildlife officials suspect the bear or bears were not being predatory but rather acting in defence of a cub.
He said it's likely the bear or bears will be euthanized, if located.
Fatal bear attacks 'very rare incidents'
Bear attacks that result in human deaths are "very rare incidents," said Sarah Elmeligi, a bear biologist based in Canmore. "It is far more likely to have an encounter with a bear where nothing happens."
She says the site of the bear attack in Waiparous and the site of the recent suspected attack are within the distance a bear could travel, but added "it's way too early to speculate if these two incidents are related or … really [an] awful coincidence."
Elmeligi describes it as "an in-between time," when bears' mating season hasn't begun and there is still snow at higher elevations.
"We do have a higher encounter probability during the spring, because people are drawn to the valley bottoms because that's snow-free, and bears are drawn to the valley bottoms, too," she said.
More bear sightings than usual
Mountain View Bearsmart, a society that seeks to help mitigate conflict between people and wildlife, has received more reports of bear sightings than usual through its website this year.
Bearsmart chair Paul Fraser says he thinks it's because people are itching to get outdoors after being cooped up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bearsmart has received reports of one black bear and five grizzly bear sightings in Mountain View County, which includes Sundre, Olds, Didsbury and Carstairs, and two black bear and seven grizzly bear sightings in nearby Clearwater County.
WATCH | What to do when you run into a bear in the backcountry:
Fraser says hungry bears can be attracted by certain grasses, dandelions, bird feeders and, later in the season, berries.
He says people should watch for signs like bear scat, tracks and even overturned logs.
"You really should be carrying bear spray with you — [you] should have it with you at all times," said Fraser.
He urges people to complete bear safety training if they plan on enjoying the outdoors.
"For the most part, you're pretty safe when you're out there in bear country, if you're paying attention to your surroundings."
What to do if you encounter a bear
Alberta Fish and Wildlife says anyone who encounters a bear in the wild should follow these steps:
Stay calm and do not run. Stay with your group and keep children close.
Back away if you see cubs or an animal carcass. The bear will want to protect them.
Prepare to defend yourself with bear spray.
Back away, leaving the way you came. Keep your eye on the bear without staring at it aggressively.
Look for a place to hide, such as a car or building.
Speak to the bear in a soft, low voice. Let the bear know that you are human and not prey.