Brown bear
Brown bear (Reuters)

A father saved his family from being mauled to death by a brown bear by fighting it off with his bare hands.

Toby Burke, 48, was on a bird-watching expedition on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, with his infant daughter, two children aged 11 and 8 and wife, Grace, when the bear attacked.

"It was just me between my family and the bear", Burke told the Homer Tribune, and first attempted to fight off the creature with his telescope, but it bit it in half.

He then tried to poke the bear in the face with a camera tripod but when this failed he was forced to resort to his bare hands, and struck it in the face.

"And all I could use was my hands. I put my left arm out in front. I was just trying to stay between my family and the bear. It seemed to me more interested in them. I was just trying to stay in between them," he said.

He said that after a brief scuffle, the bear lost interest and wandered off.

"After it was all done, my overwhelming sentiment that I was left with was, I just felt grateful. It could have ended so many different ways and, really, no one was hurt. It never laid a paw on any of my family and I didn't get torn up, so I just felt really grateful,"

Burke, who works at Alaska's Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, said: "It looked like a very unhealthy bear, not just its appearance, but its behaviour.

"I've had experience with bears with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"And I even said to my wife, that looks like a candidate to be destroyed or shot."

Afterwards Alaska State Troopers tracked the "deranged" 20-year-old bear down and shot it dead.