Léa McCroy admits that she did everything you’re not supposed to do when confronting a bear.
She was alone. She had no bear spray. And, when she met up with the grizzly while out for a run in southwestern Canada, she suddenly flashed back to her mother’s fatal mauling by a bear and she sprinted away. The Canadian teenager, whose mother was killed in 2005, did make up her mind about one key thing: She was going to survive the surreal possibility that she might die as her mother did.
“I was just so scared,” the 17-year-old told Colette Derworiz of the Canadian Press (via the Toronto Star). “I thought that was going to be it. ‘What are the chances that this is going to happen to me, too? I’m not dying today. I’m not dying today.’ ”
McCroy was running near Canmore, a mountain community that lies about 60 miles west of Calgary and borders on Banff National Park, when she heard something come crashing through the woods. “I see part of this grizzly bear,” she said, “just standing there huffing and puffing.”
Although she was only 5 when her mother, Isabelle Dubé, was killed, McCroy said she had educated herself about safety and despite what she had learned, added, “I did all the wrong things.”
The right things, according to the Alaska Dispatch News, include:
Play dead if a bear is attacking to defend itself or its cubs. Fight back if it wants you as a meal. (“For black bears, fighting back is almost always your best defense.”)
Don’t climb a tree. (Brown and black bears can climb.)
And don’t run. (“Bears can outrun humans, and running may trigger the animals’ instinctual response to chase.”)
McCroy’s mother made the mistake of climbing a tree when she and two women met up with a bear in June 2005 as they ran by an area golf resort not from where McCroy’s encounter occurred. Two women survived, but Dubé, who climbed a tree, was dragged away and mauled to death. “The bear came toward us like he was stalking us,” Jean McAllister and Maria Hawkins said in a statement in 2005 to the Globe and Mail. “He was not afraid.”
Although the four-year-old bear had been tranquilized, tagged and relocated from the site a week before, it returned, according to wildlife officials, and members of Dubé’s family said they considered the attack a freak accident. “Could it have been prevented? It’s hard to say,” Mike Sternloff, an uncle of Dubé’s husband, Heath McCroy, said in 2005.
That made it all more surreal and terrifying for McCroy, who finished 54th in her age group (45:14) in the World Mountain Running Championships in July in Italy. That’s an event her father had competed in 10 years ago. As experienced as she is as a runner, McCroy couldn’t believe that she, too, was encountering a bear.
“I was thinking, in some ways, that this was what my mom was thinking,” McCroy said. “I was thinking maybe I was weak. The bear wasn’t even doing anything and I was running away and being frantic while my mom stood her ground and fought for her life.”
McCroy’s bear was captured and relocated to Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park, nearly 300 miles from Canmore.
“I want to protect the bears, I don’t want people to hurt them,” McCroy said. “I don’t want them to die because of humans. There’s obviously territorial bears up there. I hope she can stand her ground and live her life.”
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