A Tofino resident thought her vehicle was malfunctioning when the horn and lights started going off, but instead there was a surprise waiting for her.
Stephanie Hannay first heard her vehicle horn sounding around 10:30 p.m. Saturday outside her home.
When she peeked outside, everything seemed normal.
“I went to bed and was woken up at 2 a.m. by the horn going off again,” she said.
She grabbed her keys and went to see what was going on.
“I opened the driver-side door and this head pops out in the back seat and it’s just a bear. I couldn’t believe it.”
Startled, she ran back inside.
“I wasn’t actually sure if that was what I had seen but I freaked out and closed the door immediately and I began screaming. Pacing back and forth. I wasn’t sure what to do.”
She called the Conservation Officer Service reporting line and was told a police officer would come to her house.
“He’s like: ‘What seems to be the problem?’ And I am like: ‘There’s a bear in my car.’”
The officer opened the hatch to her vehicle and the bear got out.
Tofino RCMP Const. David Cerniuk hopes the encounter will remind people to keep a safe distance and not to approach or engage with the omnivores.
“I’ve been fortunate in my career to see many cougars, bears and wolves while working in B.C. and when those moments present themselves, I'm reminded about how powerful nature really is,” he said.
Central Island Zone conservation officer Sgt. Stuart Bates believes the same bear has damaged 12 other vehicles over the last six weeks.
“We do have a bear that about six weeks ago got into a car and got some food and has since then learned to test every car it comes across,” Bates said, adding bears are incredibly smart and strong, and will destroy vehicles from the inside out.
“They’re really hard on cars — break open door handles, windows.”
The bear was trapped inside Hannay’s vehicle for more than three hours, wreaking havoc.
“It’s bad. It’s pretty bad. You can tell he tried to get out. He basically ripped the panelling off every single door, including the hatch. Things are just strewn around … it’s a disaster,” she said.
She hasn’t tried to drive the vehicle, as the bear also defecated in the car.
“I’ve got a hold of ICBC. I have to find a mechanic that can assess the vehicle,” she said. “It smells so bad in the car. It is gross. It is absolutely disgusting.”
Hannay was told by one dealership in Port Alberni that they’ve been called numerous times over the last few weeks about the same thing happening to other people.
“Last summer, the bears were quite aggressive, but you don’t think that would ever happen to you,” she said.
Her vehicle was unlocked at the time, and she admits it might not have happened if she had locked the door.
Bates said the incident is a reminder to British Columbians and visitors alike that bears are predators and should be respected and given plenty of space.
“Once a bear has learned to associate people and food and no longer fears them, that bear is not going to be relocated,” he said. “The chances of it attacking or returning or going to another community are very high.”
He hopes people will take this as a lesson, lock vehicles and make sure no food is left out.
“Don’t be feeding them, don’t be getting close and taking pictures of it. If you see a bear in your neighbourhood, scare it away, set the alarms off in your car, bang some pots together, anything. You want to make that bear uncomfortable. You do not want it to think it is a nice friendly place to be because it is the quickest way to get a bear killed.”
A live trap has been set for the bear Hannay encountered.