A huge crash jolted 11-year-old Zach Landis awake in his Anchorage home as a black bear had broken through the garden-level window of Zach’s tiny bedroom and was whimpering like a scared dog in the room. Zach screamed, and the man-sized animal bolted out the window and disappeared, the boy recalled Friday about the Monday night encounter at his home on a large, thickly wooded lot. The boy scrambled over the shattered glass and ran upstairs to tell his parents.
“Mom, Dad, there’s a bear in my room,” he blurted. His mother, Alisa Landis, told him he just had a bad dream and that he could sleep with her and his father. No, no, no, it was a bear, Zach insisted, adding the animal had climbed out the window. At that point, his mother said, it must be an intruder. His father, Jon Landis, went downstairs to check and found the shattered window.
“Call 911,” he shouted. No one was hurt, just shaken up. The animal left claw marks in the room, as well as black hair and a few smudges of blood. Plus, the bear smelled like a wet, dirty dog and left behind a powerful stench. “The odor lingered for hours,” Alisa Landis said. It was the latest encounter between bears and humans this summer in the nation’s largest state, including four maulings in the past two weeks.
Two people were killed by black bears in what are believed to be rare predatory attacks, but predatory behavior is not believed to have been what drove the bear in Monday’s residential visit. That bear appeared to find itself in the house by accident and it quickly fled, state Fish and Game officials said. The Landis family just returned to Alaska last fall after leaving the state about a decade ago. In the last couple of weeks, they’ve had their share of bear experiences.
Before the bedroom escapade, they saw another, smaller black bear crossing a busy street in south Anchorage during a family bike ride. And on Wednesday, they discovered a bear had broken into a trash bin, pulling out a garbage bag, which was slit open like it was done with a sharp knife. Their neighbors also saw a large black bear in the days before the window caper.
“We don’t live in a state of fear or being paranoid or anything,” Alisa Landis said. “But we’re also much more cautious and more alert to checking your surroundings.” The day after the incident, state Fish and Game biologist Cory Stantorf visited the home to talk to the family and try to determine what happened. Like the Landis family, he speculates that the bear might have seen its reflection in the window and charged at it.
It stays light late during Alaska summer nights and the window had blackout curtains to make the room dark that would have created a mirror-like refection in a window behind it. Stantorf said he knew of only one case where a bear crashed through a window. It was more than a decade ago and was prompted by a dog chasing the bear. He considers Monday’s incident a fluke. “Super, super rare occurrence,” he said. “I don’t know what’s rarer than rare.”
In another recent encounter more than 200 miles to the northeast, Cody Cottrell woke up last week to a black bear rummaging through the shed behind his cabin near Delta Junction. Cottrell had fallen asleep with some windows and a door open and he could see the bear looking at him from the shed. Cottrell said he didn’t even have time to put pants over his underwear. He fatally shot the cinnamon colored animal through the screen door with a rifle and is getting the meat processed into breakfast sausage. He’s also having a taxidermist make a full-size mount of the bear-with the underwear in its teeth. “I’ve always hunted, and I never really shot anything with just my underwear on,” he said. “I’ll call it the underwear bear.”