A grizzly bear attacked and killed a man in Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday morning while the man and his wife were hiking through the park.
After hiking only about a mile and half on the Wapiti Lake trail the couple encountered and surprised a female grizzly and her cubs. According to a statement by the National Park Service, in “an attempt to defend a perceived threat to her cubs, the bear attacked and fatally wounded the man.”
While the 57-year-old man, who will remain unidentified until other family members can be notified of the incident, was being mauled by the bear, a nearby group of fellow hikers heard his wife crying for help and called park rangers on a cell phone.
Yellowstone spokesperson Al Nash said that the couple actually saw the same bear twice on their hike, and after simply hiking by it the first time, the second time it attacked. The man reportedly told his wife to run. She didn't see the bear attack her husband, but when it came after her she dropped to the ground. It then picked her up by a day pack she was wearing and dropped her. She didn't require any medical attention, though she may have sustained minor cuts or bruises.
There are an estimated 600 to 1,000 grizzlies within the park and surrounding areas, according to The Associated Press. This event is the first human fatality from a grizzly attack in Yellowstone since 1986.
Park officials have closed the Wapiti Lake trail-head for the time being, and a sign warning of bear activity in that area is also posted. This is the first reported bear encounter of the season on or near that particular trail.
Park officials have not captured the bears or determined what action will be taken in the wake of this tragedy. Some, including park spokesperson Linda Miller, seemed to think that because the bear was acting defensively to protect her cubs, she won't likely be destroyed as a result of the attack, as reported by Reuters. Bears that frequently cross paths with visitors at the park, however, are sometimes relocated for everyone's safety.
“If we have an aggressive bear that continually poses a threat to human safety, then we work to remove it from the ecosystem,” Nash said.
A mother grizzly was destroyed after killing a man and injuring two others last July just outside the park in Montana, though in that particular case the bear was unprovoked when it attacked. No visitors within the park were harmed by bears in 2010.
Officials are offering park visitors some bear safety advice for visiting the park. They recommend hiking in groups of at least three, staying on marked trails, making noise when approaching blind spots where a bear could be hiding, and carrying bear pepper spray, which they say is useful on deterring even aggressive bears.
Dan Wenk, Yellowstone National Park's superintendent, spoke solemnly about this week's incident. "It is extremely unfortunate that this couple's trip into the Yellowstone backcountry has ended in tragedy," he said. "Our heart goes out to the family and friends of the victim as they work to cope with their loss."