Two men are in hospital after being mauled in separate grizzly bear attacks, roughly 70 kilometres apart in southern Alberta's Rocky Mountains.
At 12:47 p.m. Sunday, Kananaskis Emergency Services was notified of an attack on Storelk Mountain, south of Highwood Pass in Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park.
A 38-year-old man was hiking alone when it's believed a female grizzly, who was with two cubs, defensively attacked, a spokesperson for Alberta Environment and Parks said.
The man was airlifted from the backcountry to Foothills hospital in Calgary. He'd received multiple serious puncture wounds and lacerations and is in serious but stable condition.
"I think both the hiker and the bear were equally surprised, and in those situations, the female grizzly bear will actively defend her cubs," John Paczkowski, a senior park ecologist with Alberta Environment and Parks, told CBC News.
"She instantaneously realized he was there and charged him and knocked him down."
About seven hours later, at 8 p.m., Blairmore RCMP received a call about a hunter who had been attacked by a bear.
Two hunters were searching for grouse in an area about 10 kilometres west of Highway 40, near the Alberta-British Columbia boundary and south of Gould Dome mountain, when they came across a grizzly sow and her cubs. The bear attacked one of the hunters, while the other shot the bear, scaring her off, officials said.
The injured hunter is in hospital in stable condition, according to Alberta Fish and Wildlife.
Areas closed while officials investigate
Fish and wildlife officers are searching for the bear, and the area of the attack is closed to the public. Fish and wildlife said a map outlining the boundaries of the closed area will be provided as soon as it's available.
Parks staff are also looking for the bear involved in the earlier attack.
Experts say fatal bear attacks are rare. However, parks staff warn that because bears are in higher elevation areas and are currently active, hikers looking for larches changing colour need to be especially careful.
"We would ask you to demonstrate extra caution when you're out there," Paczkowski said.
"Make noise, don't have that close-range surprise encounter. Carry your bear spray and learn how to use it."
A closure has been issued for Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park west of Highway 40 from the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park boundary south to an unnamed ridge south of Running Rain Lake off of Mount Odlum.
A bear advisory is also in place for the Highwood area, which includes Ptarmigan Cirque, Pocaterra Ridge, Lipsett, Mist and Picklejar Creek.
A list of bear safety tips can be found on the province's website, and bear sightings can be reported to 403-591-7755.