Black bears are busy packing on those last few pounds needed to get them through winter, and their search for food often brings them in close contact with West Shore residents.
But one Metchosin resident had an encounter with a bear last week that was a little too close for comfort.
Nicole Rue was relaxing at home “watching Netflix” when her dog started making a commotion on the porch. “It was a torrential downpour … and all of a sudden she started barking like crazy,” Rue said in an interview this week.
She jumped up and grabbed a small solar-powered flashlight and her rain gear before heading out the door. “I could hear this high-pitched squeal,” she said, adding that she first thought cats were fighting outside.
She quickly determined the source of the noise and took off towards the pig run on the couple’s acreage just off Kangaroo Road, eventually jumping the fence to get in. She headed towards the sound, which was coming from the boggy portion of the enclosure.
Rue and her partner have been battling racoons and other small pests that have taken an interest in their livestock, especially the chickens and turkeys. As she went charging through the run, she wondered why a racoon would go after a pig. She began scanning the muddy ground for the pig, but couldn’t find it in the weak beam from the little flashlight.
“I walked right down there and right up to the bear,” she said. “That bear could have taken a step forward and taken a swipe at me … Luckily, he was too busy with the pig.”
Rue immediately started to back pedal, trudging through the deep mud and muck to get away from the bear. “It was huge; it was standing on its back legs holding the pig in its hands,” she recalled.
She noted how small the roughly 50-pound pig looked next to the bear, which she said was easily seven or eight feet tall standing upright. “By the time I got to the top, I was throwing stuff and banging stuff while I was running,” she said. “I wasn’t about to just stand there.”
Rue jumped the fence out of the enclosure and made a break for her house. Once inside, she phoned the West Shore RCMP. “They were there within 20 minutes,” she said, adding that officers had their shotguns at the ready. But by that time, the bear had vanished.
The officers escorted her back down to the run, where the wounded pig had retreated inside its shelter. “It’s wounds were really extensive,” she said. “They had to put the pig down.”
With two more pigs loose in the enclosure, Rue said, the officers helped her track them down and corral the pigs back into their shelter. “We had to literally body slam them to get them in the house. They were traumatized.”
The whole procedure took about an hour and during that time, one of the officers had to get down in the mud to entice one particularly large and stubborn pig. “The cops were amazing … I was so grateful,” she said. “They probably smelled pretty raunchy after.”
Once the officers left, the reality of the situation started to set in. “I didn’t sleep that night,” Rue said, adding in hindsight she couldn’t believe the bear didn’t attack her. “Luckily, it wasn’t a mama bear with babies.”
A conservation officer also stopped by the day after the attack to set up a live trap, in case the bear returned. “I haven’t seen it since, hopefully, it doesn’t come back,” Rue said.
Regional conservation officer Peter Pauwels said that October is the month when they receive the most calls relating to bears. “This time of year they’re fattening up,” he added.
As of Tuesday the CO service had not received further calls about bears in Metchosin, but Pauwels noted that area residents are getting used to co-existing with the animals. He said they’ll generally only call when bears are causing a problem or are in an unusual area, such as a residential street. “If people have concerns, they’re more than welcome to call.”
While it’s not unheard of, Pauwels said it is fairly unusual for a bear to attack a pig. Last year there was one such report in Sooke and this year there have been two similar reports in Duncan. “They’re opportunistic,” he added.
Rue said the bear may have been drawn to the area by fruit still hanging on neighbouring trees. Bear dung found in the pig pen had apples in it, she said, and a small apple tree near her property was nearly ripped out of the ground by a bear trying to get at the fruit.
It was a sentiment echoed by Pauwels.
“In Metchosin there’s a lot of apple trees and they’re gorging themselves,” he said. While the fruit often attracts bears to an area, when that supply starts to dwindle or other food sources are readily available, the animals will branch out, he added.
“If you don’t want a bear in your yard, pick the fruit.”
Residents should also secure their animals at night, as well as other food sources such as garbage. Even if residents don’t mind bears, he noted, the public should ensure such food sources are unavailable, as the bears could become dependant or lose some of their natural foraging abilities. “We have a couple more weeks to get through,” he said. “Usually by November the calls completely dry up.”
Since the encounter on Oct. 19 Rue has been busy rebuilding damaged fences and adding reinforcements to all of the pens and shelters on her property. She’s also considering adding a few more dogs to the farm as an extra level of protection.
“I did go out and buy a very good flashlight,” she added with a laugh.
Dangerous wildlife encounters can be reported by calling 1-800-663-9453.