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Visitors have scary close encounter with bear on bridge near Jasper

WATCH: Some visitors got closer than they would have liked to a bear Friday when it crossed a foot bridge at Sunwapta Falls. Video courtesy: Bigan Avaz.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally said the bear encounter took place at Athabasca Falls. A Jasper National Park spokesperson said Sunday it actually happened at Sunwapta Falls. Global News regrets the error.

A close encounter with a bear in Jasper National Park left some people quite shaken Friday afternoon.

It happened at around 3 p.m. at Sunwapta Falls inside the park.

Bijan Avaz, a college student visiting from Los Angeles, captured video of a bear running across a wooden footbridge full of people, including children.

A voice can be heard telling people not to run. Some people on the bridge run away, while others remained still.

The bear runs across the bridge and into a treed area up the hill.

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“The video has been shared with Parks Canada’s wildlife specialists,” Parks Canada’s Laura Coulson told Global News in an email on Monday. “Parks Canada team members will continue to monitor the black bears at Sunwapta Falls.

“The agency employs a number of practices to minimize human-wildlife conflicts, such as managing attractants like garbage and human food, seasonal trail restrictions in important wildlife habitat areas, implementing reduced speed and no stopping zones along roadways and discouraging wildlife from using high-traffic areas when necessary.”

Coulson said Parks Canada has been concentrating on public education when it comes to protecting wildlife and humans who encounter wild animals. She said that educational component involves explaining park rules and regulations.

“We all have a role to play in keeping wildlife wild,” she said, adding that the agency is considering assigning one of its wildlife guardians to be “a rover for the month of August,” somebody who could “move around the park, interacting with visitors and tending to places that have had occurrences such as this.”

“Bears and other wildlife that become comfortable around people and places are at greater risk,” Coulson said. “This is why it’s important for residents and visitors to remember that they share the surrounding habitat with wildlife.

“Wildlife need lots of space — 100 metres for large animals and carnivores (bison, bears, wolves, cougars). Never surround, crowd, turn your back to, or follow an animal. If an animal reacts to you, you are too close.”

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READ MORE: Bear activity prompts Alberta Fish and Wildlife to close lake area in west-central part of province

Sunwapta Falls is about 55 kilometres south of the Jasper townsite.

Alberta Fish and Wildlife referred Global News to federal officials on this matter.

READ MORE: Canmore diners shocked by bear walking into restaurant

While Fish and Wildlife officers haven’t commented about this case specifically, there are several posts on the department’s Facebook page about bear sightings and safety.

“Fish and wildlife officers want to remind the public of the importance of being BearSmart when spending time in bear country,” one message, posted Thursday, read.

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“Bears have a curious, investigative nature, an important trait that helps them find new food sources. A bear that has learned to associate food with people will actively search for food or garbage in areas frequented by people. When a bear becomes habituated, it can be a significant threat to human safety and property.

“To avoid causing habituation, people should take steps to ensure their property is BearSmart.

Here are some tips:
• Never leave food out for wildlife.
• Always keep your garbage in a garage or in a bear-resistant container until it can be removed from your property.
• Store pet food indoors and bring in pet dishes overnight.

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If there’s a bear in your community, call the nearest Fish and Wildlife office at 310-0000 or, after business hours, the Report a Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800.

READ MORE: Released black bear shot dead after going too close to kids in southwestern Alberta

The province also offers tips on what to do if a human sees a bear and that bear sees them:

  • Do not run. Stay calm. Keep children close.
  • Back out. Keep your eye on the bear without staring at it aggressively.
  • Prepare to use bear spray.
  • Speak in a soft, low voice.

Coulson also advised people to make lots of noise by clapping or singing to help reduce the likelihood of a bear encounter. She also said to watch for “fresh bear signs” like tracks, droppings, signs of digging, torn-up logs and turned-over rocks. If anyone sees any such signs of bear activity, they should leave the area. If a large, dead animal is spotted, people should leave the area and report it to park staff.

Coulson also said dog owners should keep their pets on a leash to reduce the chance of “defensive behaviour in bears” and said larger groups of people are normally less likely to have a bear encounter. She added that children should never be allowed to wander off on their own in areas where there are bears.

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