A Whitehorse, Yukon, man has been killed in a hunting-related attack by a wood bison, the first documented human fatality involving a bison in the territory.
Yukon’s chief coroner Heather Jones identified the dead as Terry Joseph Arthur Still, 43, and said in a press release he was hunting with his wife and a close friend in the Champagne area, approximately an hour west of Whitehorse, last weekend.
Early Saturday morning, Still and his friend spotted a lone bison and fired on the animal, downing it, the coroner’s report says. Still approached the fallen animal while the second hunter turned away and went back to fetch their ATV.
“It is believed that when the hunter approached the downed bison it quickly became mobile and charged,” the report says. Still fired several more shots into the injured creature, but “sustained fatal injuries from the charging animal,” which itself died from its injuries approximately 100 metres from where it had charged Still.
Yukon RCMP and conservation officers from both Whitehorse and nearby Haines Junction are investigating the incident.
Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) can be found in two separate pockets in the Yukon; a herd south of Watson Lake can often be seen grazing along the side of the highway, and the Aishihik herd can be found in the more remote west. Only the Aishihik herd may be legally harvested.
All bison in the Yukon are the result of the release of 170 animals through a national reintroduction program in the 1980s, a project that was and remains contentious because it did not consult First Nations such as the Champagne-Aishihik, on whose land the animals were introduced and continued to reside.
According to the government of Yukon, the Aishihik herd has ballooned to 1,200-1,400 animals since it was first reintroduced to the region. It was made legal to hunt the Aishihik bison in 1998, and since then approximately 1,900 animals have been harvested. Bison season opened in the territory this year on Sept. 1.
Male bison can weigh up to 900 kilograms (2,000 lbs) and females up to 600 kilograms (1,300 lbs). Both sexes stand approximately 1.8 metres (6 feet) tall, have short, curving black horns, and can be dangerous if approached.The sex and age of the bison that charged Still has not yet been confirmed.
Hunting has traditionally been, and remains, a common and culturally significant activity among both First Nation and Settler residents within the territory, particularly for large mammals such as moose and caribou. All eligible Yukon residents are entitled to hunt, and non-First Nation residents with appropriate big-game licences can obtain a bison tag for $10.
Although this is the first documented human fatality involving a bison in the territory, it is not the first documented attack. In 2017, bison hunter Todd Pilgrim was gored during a hunting trip in which he was attempting to track a bison he had wounded but had gotten away. The bison charged Pilgrim from behind; like Still, Pilgrim was able to shoot the injured animal again, killing it, but not before he sustained severe injuries to his back, ribs, and shoulders, as well as a severe head injury, which has resulted in ongoing complications.
Similar attacks have taken place elsewhere in North America. In areas such as Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, where humans often interact with bison in inadvisable ways—such as trying to take a selfie with one—multiple injuries have been reported. In August, a man died from his injuries in what is believed to be a bison attack in Antelope Island State Park, Utah. The animals involved in these incidents are plains bison, which are slightly smaller than their woodland cousins.
Yukoner Ashley Fewer has set up a GoFundMe page for Still’s family, which raised nearly $15,000 as of Wednesday morning. Fewer states Still ran a home business and was the sole provider for the household.
VICE News reached out to Still’s family, who declined to comment at this time.
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