The town of Churchill, Manitoba is in the news again after a chaotic fight that involved at least two polar bears, residents, and local conservation officers. The event occurred last Friday morning when a woman was accosted by a male polar bear around 5:15 a.m., the Winnipeg Free Press reports. The animal corned the unidentified woman against a building and began attacking her when retired tour guide Bill Ayotte, 69, came to her aid. Ayotte lived nearby and heard her screams. He rushed outside with a shovel and began striking the bear with it, distracting the bear from the woman, who later found refuge inside Ayotte’s home. Unfortunately, the bear then turned its attention on the man, severely injuring him.
By this time the commotion roused the quiet Churchill neighborhood and several residents attempted to drive off the bear, which was still on top of Ayotte.
“It was dragging him around,” said Ayotte’s neighbor Mitch Paddock. “It was pouncing on him. That’s what polar bears do. They take both their paws and they kind of smash. He was kind of jumping on Bill’s chest.”
According to The Canadian Press, several other residents began throwing shoes and other objects at the animal. Paddock and another man retrieved shotguns and loaded them with cracker shells, which are nonlethal shots used to scare off wildlife. Due to the high number of polar bears near Churchill, many of the town’s residents keep cracker shells at home.
The men fired over the bear but the loud noises had little effect on the animal. It was only when a man drove up to the bear and honked his car’s horns that the bruin retreated.
The male polar bear was not the only one in the town that morning, According to the Waterloo Region Record, Manitoba Conservation received notice of several sightings in Churchill at the same time as the attack.
“I ran out to see a huge mama bear and her cub scurrying across the street from the back alley,” said resident Joe Myles. “Then we started hearing shots, then screaming and yelling, then more shots.”
Myles added that he went inside after another bear made a move towards him.
Conservation officers were quick to arrive on the scene and began efforts to drive the bears out of the town. Halloween festivities had ended hours earlier and fortunately no trick-or-treaters were still on the streets. Pushing the animals back into the wilderness was not without its own dangers however, conservation officers shot and injured one bear and killed another one while tracking it. The wounded bear was later found dead and determined to be the one that originally attacked Ayotte. A cub found abandoned at the scene was taken to the area’s polar bear holding facility.
Ayotte and the woman he rescued were taken to a hospital for treatment. Both received cuts and bear-related injuries, although Ayotte’s wounds were significantly more serious. The woman has since been released from the hospital while Ayotte is still recovering.
Churchill appeared in the news earlier this year when a visitor to the town fended off a polar bear with his cell phone. Garret Kolsun managed to escape that attack with only minor scrapes and bruises. Despite their abundance, residents say they rarely have trouble with the neighboring bear population. Every year Churchill receives thousands of visitors and tourists who come to the town hoping to catch a glimpse of polar bears, which lends the town its moniker of “Polar Bear Capital of the World.”
Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service