Finally Facts on the Attack - UPDATE September 5, 2019

I got a call from ABC News today for my views on a bear killing a Minnesota woman in Ontario, and I wish I had these facts on the attack at that time. Map of Red Pine Island, Rainy Lake, ©WDIO-TVRed Pine Island, Rainy Lake
© WDIO-TV
But I guessed pretty much what has now been released. No one will ever know exactly what happened. Here’s the link: https://www.tbnewswatch.com/local-news/fatal-bear-attack-on-rainy-lake-involved-a-sow-with-two-yearlings-1673512

Here’s what it says:

FORT FRANCES, Ont. — Ontario Provincial Police have identified the victim of a fatal mauling by a bear on an island on Rainy Lake.

She was 62-year-old Catherine Sweatt-Mueller of Maple Plain, Minnesota.

The incident happened Sunday evening on Red Pine Island, east of Fort Frances and just north of the Canada/U.S. border.

Sweatt-Mueller had been staying at a family-owned camp with her elderly parents.

According to OPP Constable Jim Davis, she went outside to investigate after her two dogs started barking.

Both dogs came back to the cabin, one of them with an injury, but when their daughter failed to return, her parents called police.

Davis said officers who travelled to the island by boat had some difficulty locating Sweatt-Mueller because of dense underbrush, but eventually found a yearling bear standing over her body.

They shot the animal while a sow and another yearling remained nearby in the bush.

Davis said the officers couldn't see the other bears as it was dark but they were exhibiting aggressive behaviour, making "woofing" noises with their mouths and stomping.

In a statement Wednesday morning, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said conservation officers were conducting a search of the island to try to locate the two animals.

There are no other cottages on the island.

"Attacks of this nature are extremely rare and our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victim," the ministry statement added.

It sounds like the woman got involved in a scuffle between dogs and a family of bears. It is unusual for a mother to have yearlings with her at this time of year, but I saw it happen once in my study back in the 1970’s. It does make me wonder, though, if the yearlings were extra big cubs of the year. Whatever, dogs are involved in a disproportionate number of “attacks” on people. I put attacks in quotes because they almost always or maybe always are bears responding defensively to attacks by dogs that end up with a human in the middle. This is the first death I’ve heard of in such a situation, though. Then the article goes on to claim aggressive behavior on the part of the mother and sibling after the yearling by the body was shot. However, the description sounds like expressions of anxiety that I have seen hundreds of times but never turned into an attack. Actually, I have never had any bear come after me and hurt me. Any encounters in which I’ve been nipped or slapped have been encounters that I initiated, like trying to put a radio-collar on a bear that was not yet accustomed to having me do that. It was never the result of harmless ritualized displays of anxiety as are described in the article above. When asked about such situations, all I can say is that only about one black bear in a million kills someone, making black bears much safer to be around than people.

Here is an article with a video that tells more https://www.wdio.com/news/red-pine-island-bear-attack-woman-dead/5479176/

When ABC News emails me that the segment on the attack is going to air, I’ll put it in an update.

On another note, the distant shots we heard yesterday did result in two bears being taken, but neither was a bear we knew. After shooting hours ended today, I checked with 5 people who were outside most of the day, and no one heard any shots today.

Thank you for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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