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Black bear kills Minnesota woman in Canada in rare attack

A black bear has killed a Minnesota woman on a secluded island in Canadian waters in an attack that experts call extremely rare.

Posted: Sep 4, 2019 7:29 AM
Updated: Sep 4, 2019 8:10 PM

INTERNATIONAL FALLS, Minn. (AP) — A black bear has killed a Minnesota woman on a secluded island in Canadian waters in an attack that experts call extremely rare.

Catherine Sweatt-Mueller, 62, of Maple Plain, was staying with her parents in a remote cabin on Red Pine Island in Rainy Lake when she was killed, Ontario Provincial Police said.

Police Constable Jim Davis saids Sweatt-Mueller went outside Sunday evening when she heard her two dogs barking, but that she never returned, the Star Tribune reported.

The dogs, one of them injured, returned to the cabin. Her parents, who are in their 80s, also were on the island and her mother called police, Davis said. Officers found a bear standing over Sweatt-Mueller's body and shot the animal.

Davis told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he could not say what caused the attack. While authorities typically handle complaints about bears rooting through garbage summer through fall, he said there have been no reports of bears attacking people.

"The family is, of course, very devastated," Davis said. "The officers on the scene were fairly devastated to deliver the news. ... We can't believe a bear attacked a person."

The bear is being sent for testing at the University of Guelph, and a necropsy — an animal autopsy — will be performed to help determine if there were any physical reasons for the bear's abnormal behavior, Maimoona Dinani, a media relations officer for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, said in a statement. No one witnessed the attack, Dinani said.

"Attacks of this nature are extremely rare and our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victim," Dinani said. The last fatal bear attack in Ontario was in 2005.

Minnesota wildlife biologist Andy Tri says a predatory attack by a black bear is "beyond extremely rare."

On average, a fatal attack by a black bear happens about once a year in all of North America, said Dave Garshelis, a bear research scientist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Fatal attacks by the more aggressive grizzly bear, which has a narrower range than the black bear, happen about twice a year in North America, Garshelis said.

Black bears tend to be timid around people, Garshelis said. "They're very unaggressive bears," he said. "If you ever approach a black bear closely, typically they'll see you and run off."

But bears can become aggressive toward dogs and can charge after a dog that was being walked by its owner, Garshelis said. The dog comes back to its owner with the bear chasing it, he said.

Red Pine Island is about 10 miles (16 kilometers) northeast of International Falls, Minnesota. Davis said the island is owned by Sweatt-Mueller's family, who are the only occupants, and is accessible only by boat, a 20-minute to half-hour ride.

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