Elderly Canadian and bear square off in Ontario

A 61-year-old former featherweight boxer exchanged blows with a 145kg bear after he stumbled upon her cub while walking his dog on a path outside the city of Sudbury in Ontario, Canada.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

A North American black bear

Updated Jul 7, 2016

Rick Nelson is lucky to have survived his encounter with a protective mother black bear after he came upon her cub on a path while walking his dog. The former featherweight boxer, who had spent years perfecting his swing in the ring, put his training to use when he found himself face to snout with nothing but his fists and his wits to defend himself with.

A black bear cub wandered out of a shrub about a metre from Nelson and his dog on Sunday. “It was so close I could touch it.” he said. The moment of motherly confrontation came about moments after the cub “let out a yelp, because I scared the heck out of it.”

Realising that he only had seconds to prepare himself before the mama bear responded to her cub’s cries, Nelson looked around his immediate surroundings for anything to defend himself with. “I knew right away I was in trouble,” he recalled, as he could find no sticks or stones nearby.

“The mother was coming full speed,” he said. “And it came and it meant business.”

The 145 kg bear lifted itself up and stood on it’s hind legs in front of the former boxer. The bear swung and Nelson retaliated with a right-hand jab to the muzzle of the bear, tearing his knuckles on the bear’s teeth in the process.  

The bear, now smelling blood, went for another swing; this time tearing through the boxers defences and carved gashes into his face and chest.

Black bears are equipped with non-retractable claws, each measuring about 4cm long.

The bear cub, surely frightened by the entire encounter, squealed and quickly left the scene. With her cub no longer in immediate danger, this was the moment when the mother bear would decide how far to take the perceived intrusion by Nelson, and to possibly continue the brawl.

As an incentive to dismiss any further plans for attack, Nelson, the greying 61 year old man, prepared to take another swing. “I did an underhand and hit it right in the snout,” he remembered. “Believe me, when you’ve got adrenaline pumping, you can hit. Even at 61 with grey hair, you can still hit hard.”

The bear decided enough was enough and with a newly bloodied nose, the bear turned around, following her cub, running back into the bush.

Black bears are native to North America and are generally not confrontational. “Probably they’re more afraid of you and [me] than we are of them,” Nelson said while speaking to CBC the day after the encounter.  “Black bears really aren’t dangerous unless you have a cub involved,” he said.

Bear experts say that anytime you come across a bear, do not run. It will most likely trigger the animal’s chase instinct and an otherwise peaceful encounter may turn dangerous or even deadly. Besides, bears can easily outrun even the fastest human, with the slower black bear able to move at speeds of 50km/h and higher.

A family of black bears in a tree.

Bears are also excellent climbers, so don’t seek shelter up in the branches. Your best defence against a black bear attack is to try and make yourself look bigger. Raise your hands above your head and slowly wave them, while at the same time slowly swaying them and making noise. Make sure the bear has a way out of the situation, and don’t corner it. If the bear does charge, remain calm and don’t run, as they are known to break off their charge at the last moment

“I’m really glad that the bear walked away. And I’m really glad I did, too,” commented Nelson, realising that the situation could have turned out much differently.

Black bear attacks are fairly uncommon in the Americas, with 7 reported since 2010, mostly in British Columbia, Canada. Black bears generally avoid humans and are known to attack defensively, in order to protect their cubs.

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TRTWorld and agencies