The Happy Camper: What Triggered the Recent Grizzly Attack in Banff?


My deep condolences to the two backcountry campers (and their dog) who were recently attacked and killed on day five of their seven-day hike in a remote section of Banff National Park, according to CBC News. They were experienced campers and did everything right. They had hung their food for the night, equipped themselves with two cans of bear spray and kept in contact with a family member using a GPS device (Garmin inReach) throughout their trip. This wasn’t their first rodeo. They had years of wilderness-tripping experience.

At around 8 p.m. they used their GPS device to send out an SOS signal with the message “Bear attack bad.” Parks Canada received the alert from the Red Valley west of Ya Ha Tinda Ranch. Bad weather wouldn’t allow for the rescue team to check things out by helicopter, so they arrived three hours later by ground transportation. When they arrived, both Jenny Gusse and Doug Inglis, extreme outdoor enthusiasts for countless years, were dead, as well as their beloved dog. One can of bear spray had been used.  

So, what happened? What triggered the attack?

Let’s start with what we do know. No one was there to witness it, so it’s just guess work at this point.  

The grizzly was an older (25 years old) non-lactating female. She was very low in body fat, had extremely poor teeth and it is the season when bears are trying to fatten up for the winter. They’re desperate for food. Also, it wasn’t a known bear—meaning the park wardens hadn’t tagged it and didn’t have it on their list as a habituated bear known for stealing food from campsites. The site was also not marked as a problem bear area.

Some possibilities.

One possibility—the dog. A lot of dog owners believe their canine companion will scare off marauding bears and even protect their owners to the bitter end; this is false on most occasions. While dogs can be great to have along on your trip, they can lure in a bear by barking and yapping. A small dog makes a good meal for a bear, especially just before it’s about to den up for the winter. The dog may also chase the bear, and then retreat in fear, bringing the bear back with it. Kevin Callan

Did they startle the bear along the trail? This is one of the most common causes of bear attacks, especially while they are on a food source hunt or with a cub. However, neither matched this encounter. They were base camping for the night at a designated campsite. We also know the female bear was non-lactating, so it didn’t have a cub. So, that rules out that incentive behind the attack.

What about a predacious bear? This is a type of bear you definitely don’t want to deal with. It’s terrifying. The bear stalks you, waits for the opportunistic moment when you’re vulnerable and quickly comes in for the kill. Predatory grizzlies can be more common than predatory black bears. If it was this type of bear, then fight rather than flight would be the better option. Maybe that’s what they had to resort to.

Again, there were no witnesses, so what really happened remains a mystery for now.

My conclusion is that Jenny Gusse and Doug Inglis were in a devastating case of the “wrong place at the wrong time.” A rarity, for sure, in the backcountry.Kevin Callan

Let’s look at the stats:

  • This was the first grizzly bear fatality in Banff National Park in decades, and in the last 10 years, there had only been three non-lethal contact encounters, all due to surprise encounters.
  • On average, across North America, there have been three fatal grizzly bear attacks per year over the past decade.
  • More recent statistics from Parks Canada—140 reported cases between 1982 and 2018 resulted in 17 fatalities. Of those cases, approximately 60 per cent involved grizzly bears while the remaining 40 per cent involved black bears.
  • British Columbia has the highest number; nine fatalities, while Alberta had eight caused by black bears or grizzly bears.
  • Parks Canada reports there have been more than 1,200 bear-related incidents reported in BC between 2010 and 2020.

What about in my neck of the woods, Ontario? Algonquin is one of the busiest parks in the province of Ontario. It sees over 900,000 visits a year, nearly one-quarter of which are backcountry users. There have been two fatal predacious black bear attacks in the park since it opened in 1893. Three fatal attacks occurred elsewhere in Ontario in 2020, 2019 and 2005.

Definitely “wrong place at the wrong time.”

My heart goes out to all three of the fatalities and their loved ones. I’m glad they spent so much time exploring the wild areas of Canada during their lifetime, rather than the busy highways we travel to work on every day—which take far more victims than bears in the wilderness.


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