07/04/2011 08:02 EDT | Updated 09/03/2011 05:12 EDT

Bear Attack In BC: Animals Showed No Signs Of Illness Or Malnutrition


THE CANADIAN PRESS -- VANCOUVER - Four black bears shot by conservation officers over suspicions they fed on the remains of a B.C. woman were healthy and showed no signs of being sick or malnourished, says a conservation officer.

Rod Olsen, of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, said Monday the bears were between 45 and 63 kilograms and were well fed, eating natural foods like Saskatoon berries.

The animals were shot Friday and Saturday after the woman's remains were found near Lillooet, B.C.

"They're all healthy," said Olsen. "We've got a really good food crop this year because of the wet spring. So there's lots of natural food sources and the initial necropsies being conducted show that."

DNA was transported to an Edmonton lab for examination by scientists, which will help them determine whether or not any of the animals actually consumed parts of the woman. The hair and tissue samples were taken from the bears' ears.

On Thursday, a police dog found the body of the woman, whose name has not been released, on a remote Lillooet property, about 250 kilometres northeast of Vancouver. Officials are still trying to figure out what happened.

Olsen said the remains were discovered 300 to 400 metres down a hill from a well-kept rural home.

But while it appears "quite obvious" the bears chewed on the remains, he said conservation officers don't know if any of the four animals actually killed the person.

An autopsy set for Monday afternoon at Kamloops' Royal Inland Hospital should clear that up, said Interior region coroner Mark Coleman.

One of the bears was killed just metres away from where the body was found, while the others were killed within a four-kilometre radius.

Coleman said medical officials will also use dental records to confirm the victim's identity.

"At this point, from our standpoint, it's simply an undetermined cause of death," he said.

Coleman said the B.C. Coroners Service was expected to pinpoint the preliminary cause of death and would release the findings as early as Tuesday.

It's too early to say why the bears might attack a person, Olson said.

He noted that evidence suggests bears had previously attempted to enter the rural home, though conservation officers never received any complaints.

"We found out after the fact."

The rural property was well maintained and had no obvious attractants, such as garbage.

Olson said conservation officers have received fewer bear complaints this year than in previous years. When bears have attacked people before, he said it was usually because they are naturally predatory, or were trying to defend themselves, their young or a food source.

"Bears are individuals, right? And they have bad days just like people," said Olsen.

Two such attacks have happened in B.C. since 2000.

One occurred near Panorama Mountain Village, north of Cranbrook, and another took place at a petroleum exploration camp, north of Fort St. John.

Olsen said conservation officers will provide any information they gather, including the statements of community and family members, to the coroner.

Environment Minister Terry Lake called the incident "unusual" and "terribly unfortunate." He asked the public to take steps towards reducing conflict between humans and wildlife.

People should make noise when they are exploring the wild to avoid surprising bears, and they should ensure barbecues and garbage aren't left out to attract wildlife, he said.

"We want to do what we can to decrease that interaction between wildlife and humans," said Lake.

In two unrelated incidents, conservation officers and Mounties were forced to shoot other bears in recent days.

In Kamloops, Mounties shot a bear that attacked and killed at least two alpacas, and in Victoria, conservation officers shot a bear that moved in too close to the city's downtown.