Conservation officers were searching for a black bear Thursday that pulled a 54-year-old man’s body out of his car and dragged it into the bush for a future meal.
Environment Minister Terry Lake said the bear will be killed for two reasons: public safety and to forward the investigation.
“We do know that bears will always return to where they found food. So while the police and coroner are investigating this scene, we want to make sure the bear isn’t coming back and putting them at risk as well,” he said.
“This isn’t natural food for bears. A bear out of its natural feeding habit is always a bit more of a danger. And conservation officers hate to euthanize, but public safety is our top concern.”
The man died, probably days earlier, and was pulled through the open driver’s side window of his brown 1986 Volkswagen Jetta. Several muddy animal pawprints and scratches were on the car as well as a dent in the driver’s door below the window.
The body was 120 metres away, partly covered with plant debris the bear had raked overtop.
Hunters came across the scene at about 6 p.m. Wednesday, in the bush off a pipeline cutline that was accessed from the Long Lake forest service road about an hour southwest of Kamloops.
How the man died is still under investigation, but hard drugs and alcohol were found in the car.
“For us, the investigation focuses on the positive identification of the victim, the notification of next of kin and follow up laboratory and medical test results from the coroner’s service to pinpoint the cause and mechanism of death,” said Kamloops RCMP Staff Sgt. Grant Learned.
The man had not been reported missing. He was last seen on May 23.
“We’re pretty sure we know who it is,” said Learned, adding positive identification was still being confirmed and then next of kin were to be notified.
Police and conservation officers were at the site Wednesday night. They heard the bear in the bush near the body while they were there and so made the decision to have the car towed into town to go over it.
The hunters told police they had also seen a black bear in the area before they found the car or the body.
“There may have been a medical issue, or cause attributed to use of illicit drugs or other reasons. We can’t speculate on cause of death,” he said.
Regional coroner Mark Coleman said a decision would be determined Thursday about whether an autopsy would be needed.
The man’s death is not believed to be related to the bear; the body had probably been at the site for days, he said.
At this point, the cause of death is undetermined. But an overdose or suicide are the most likely causes, he said.
“We have to be comfortable to rule out natural death as well.”
Lake said bears feeding on humans is not unheard of. Just last year, there was an incident involving a grizzly bear eating the remains of an elderly woman near Lillooet.
Tony Hamilton, large carnivore specialist with the Ministry of Environment, has seen bears cache food in the wild.
What this bear is reported to have done — buried the body under plant debris — is typical.
“I’ve seen them excavate a little bit of a depression, then pull the carcass in. But far more common by both grizzlies and blacks is to gather vegetation from the area and use to cover the carcass,” he said.
While there are varied theories about the behavior, Hamilton’s belief is that the bears are hiding the meat from other predators because they can’t eat it all at once.
Anyone who is out in the woods who sees signs of a bear cache or smells rotten meat should get out of there as quickly as possible. Bears will be defensive of their food, he said.
As for the fate of this black bear, he said the ministry is erring on the side of safety.
“I don’t know if a bear who has associated dead humans with food would now transfer that to live humans. But I’m certainly not willing nor are the conservation officers willing to take that risk.”