Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cellphone saved man in encounter with polar bear

Distracted animal that confronted resident

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A man accosted by a polar bear in Churchill early Saturday morning was saved not by the bell, nor the ringtone, but apparently by the light on his cellphone.

The man, a border agent employed by Canada Customs to inspect international grain ships, was walking home from the Seaport Hotel sometime after 2 a.m. Saturday.

The Seaport is on the town's main drag, Kelsey Boulevard. Canada Customs rents a home for its border agents on Button Street about five blocks away.

The man was confronted by the polar bear in front of the famous Gypsy's Restaurant on Kelsey.

"I was in bed. I heard someone screaming," said Nadia Duncan, a resident. She estimated the time was between 2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m.

"This bear came out of nowhere," according to Churchill Mayor Mike Spence. The bear scratched the man's shirt and bit him in the back somewhere.

"I heard he was bit in the ass," said one resident, and that was the prevailing account in the community.

"(The border agent) managed to step back and the bear was reaching out to him, and he pulled out his cellphone," said the mayor. "The light from the cellphone startled the bear, and the bear backed off a bit and knocked something over."

While the distracted bear looked away, the man bolted to safety. It's believed he ran for about two blocks. It's not known what building he ran into but homes in Churchill are routinely left unlocked in case of a bear attack.

Roberta Wokes was driving a taxi that night. She didn't see the attack but came across the bear soon afterwards. She honked her horn and chased the bear away.

She picked up the victim, who asked her to drive him home. "He didn't realize he was hurt. I noticed puncture marks in the back of his jacket. He was in shock."

Friends of the man then came along and took him to hospital.

Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship said Sunday it received a report of a polar bear attack in Churchill early Saturday morning and the individual was treated in hospital for minor injuries and released.

"It was a young male bear and they're like teenage boys: They're stupid and they're too brave," Wokes said. She said the bear scurried off into the lumberyard.

Manitoba Conservation said the polar bear was captured later Saturday. It is now being housed in its polar bear holding facility for assessment.

Spence did not know the man's injuries but has been told "he's doing OK."

"Thank God he wasn't severely hurt. Polar bears are so quick and unpredictable," the mayor said.

The last person to be killed by a polar bear in Churchill was in the 1980s, Spence said. "Here the (border agent) was in the middle of the street, in downtown Churchill, and all of a sudden he got mauled," he said. "The person is lucky. He played his cards right."

Conservation reminded Churchill-area residents Sunday polar bears become more active at this time of year, and should take appropriate precautions, including travelling in groups and avoiding where bears may congregate.

Spence said the town's residents are concerned but that "it's something we live with. It's part of what we do."

Manitoba Conservation's 24-hour hotline (204-675-2327 or 204-675-BEAR) is available for people to report bears in the Churchill area.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 9, 2013 A5

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