A Minnesota woman vacationing in Canada with her parents was killed in an “extremely rare” attack by a black bear, officials said.
Catherine Sweatt-Mueller, 62, was found dead Sunday with a bear standing over her body after she failed to return to the family cabin from checking on her two dogs.
Her worried mother called police when the dogs came back without her to the cabin in Ontario on secluded Red Pine Island near the Minnesota border. One of the dogs was bloodied and injured, CNN reported.
Police killed the bear standing over Sweatt-Mueller. But conservation officials are also hunting for two others nearby who were seen acting aggressively. The plan was to relocate the two bears.
One of the bears was “snapping its gums, gritting its teeth, stomping,” Ontario Provincial Police Constable Jim Davis told the BBC.
“The family is ... very devastated,” Davis told The Associated Press. “The officers on the scene were fairly devastated to deliver the news. We can’t believe a bear attacked a person.”
A necropsy will be performed on the bear to seek any possible physical reason for the animal’s behavior.
Experts told ABC News that fatal attacks by bears on humans often begin with confrontations with dogs. A “disproportionate number” of the attacks are linked to dogs, Lynn Rogers, founder of the North American Bear Center, told ABC.
Three of the seven significant unprovoked bear attacks in Minnesota since 1987 involved a dog, Dave Garshelis, a bear expert at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, told ABC. None of those attacks was fatal.
Often in those cases, owners are hurt trying to intercede for the dogs or the pets run to their owners for protection and the “next thing you know the bear is 2 feet away,” Garshelis said.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources said in a statement that “attacks of this nature are extremely rare. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victim.”
The last fatal bear attack in Ontario was in 2005.
Composer Julien Gauthier was killed by a bear last month in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories on a journey to collect nature sounds for his music. A black bear and grizzly found nearby were killed by wildlife officials. It was the fourth bear-related death in the Northwest Territories in 20 years, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.