Polar bear kills one, injures two others
A rare attack by a polar bear has devastated a group of campers in Rankin Inlet.
IQALUIT — One woman is dead and two other people are recovering from injuries after a polar bear attack last Friday at Corbett Inlet, 30 miles south of Rankin Inlet.
Hattie Amitnak, a 64-year-old Baker Lake woman, was mauled to death while trying to stop the 250-pound bear from attacking her fellow campers.
Police say two of the campers, Moses Aliyak, 66, and his 12-year-old grandson, Cyrus Aliyak, encountered the bear first as they were leaving their tent. The pair were on their way to retrieve their boat, which had drifted away earlier in the day.
“We were wondering about our boat— if it would be alright,” said Margaret Amarook, Amitnak’s 56-year-old step-daughter and one of the campers. “Moses said he would go get it.”
Amarook did not see the initial attack. She had left to get fresh water at a nearby spring before Moses and his grandson went to retrieve the boat that afternoon. But while she was at the water hole, she realized something was wrong .
“I was beginning to wonder why no one was coming to help me. I was wondering, ‘What’s going on?'”
Amarook decided to go back to the campsite, never suspecting when Aliyak and his grandson had gone to get their boat, a six-foot tall polar bear had been standing on the shore of Corbett Inlet close to their tent.
“The water, the canteen was very heavy so I had my head down,” said Amarook. Everything was quiet as she walked slowly into the campsite. The fight was already over.
Aliyak tried to scare the bear away by throwing stones and yelling at it, police say, but the bear attacked him, lacerating his head and face.
Cyrus ran back into the tent to hide. That was when Hattie Amitnak and her 10-year-old grandson, Eddie Amitnak, left the tent to help Aliyak.
The bear hit Eddie, and the boy suffered a severe head trauma. Amitnak was mauled to death.
“I looked up and saw something moving in front of the tent. It was the polar bear eating… something.” Amarook said.
“The polar bear looked at me,” Amarook said, crying.
There was no one in sight, but Aliyak called out to her.
“He said come, so I went to him,” Amarook said. She found him hiding in a broken-down cabin close to the tent.
“There was blood all over his head, I couldn’t recognize him. The little boy in the tent (Cyrus) called out to me ‘There’s a polar bear near us. Don’t go near us!’.”
Moses told her to leave the campsite and get away from the bear.
“But I said, ‘What about you?'”
Moses responded that he would stay in the cabin hiding. Amarook then went to another camp nearly two miles away for help.
Saying a prayer to God, she set out for David and Rosie Oolooyuk’s camp, where she would eventually use a single side band radio to call for help. As she made her trek, she noticed that Moses Aliyak had changed his mind and had decided to follow her.
“I had to decide, do I go back for him or keep going?” Amarook decided to continue.
Two helicopters arrived with RCMP officers and two trauma nurses, said Staff Sergeant Tom Blum. Moses and Cyrus Aliyak were airlifted to a hospital in Winnipeg. Blum says both are recovering well from their injuries.
Wildlife officers were sent out later to find and kill the bear.
“Within a half hour we found it. It was within three kilometres of the site,” said Gerald Fillatre, a wildlife officer from Baker Lake.
Fillatre said the bear is estimated to be a year and a half old and that it was sent to Saskatoon for an autopsy.
He said he couldn’t speculate on why the bear attacked the campers until the results of the autopsy are known. However, he did say that bear attacks are relatively rare.
“It’s really uncommon. There’s only been a few cases in the last 20 years.”