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Grizzly bear kills hiker in Yellowstone National Park

July 6, 2011 |  4:11 pm

Grizzly A hiker in Yellowstone National Park was killed by a grizzly bear Wednesday morning after he and his wife surprised a sow and her cubs on a popular trail.

The unidentified couple were about a mile and a half from the trailhead of the Wapiti Lake trail when they encountered the sow and her cubs. The bear, apparently reacting to the perceived threat to her cubs, fatally attacked  the man,  park officials said. The woman was unhurt.

Nearby hikers heard the woman's cries and used a cellphone to call for help. The victim died at the scene. Yellowstone law enforcement and emergency medical personnel responded, as did a park employee who serves as a coroner.

Rangers closed all trails and backcountry campsites in the area, which is southeast of Canyon Village. Rangers on foot patrol swept the region for any hikers. The area is is a gateway to the Pelican Valley, where it is common to see bears. A bear-warning sign was posted at the Wapiti Lake trailhead.

It was the first bear-caused human fatality in Yellowstone in nearly 25 years, according to park officials.

Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said there had been no reports of grizzly encounters in the park, which is just beginning to emerge from a heavy winter. Wildlife researchers in the upper Rockies have theorized that with declining grizzly habitat and fewer food sources, bears might become more prone to attack humans. But Wednesday's incident appeared to be an act of defense by the bear, which fled with her cubs.

The last fatal grizzly attack in Yellowstone was in October 1986, when the mauled body of a man was found by the road near Otter Creek. A camera and tripod were nearby, causing park officials to conclude that the man was attacked while he was photographing a grizzly.

RELATED:

Grim outlook for grizzlies in Yellowstone region

Yellowstone a petri dish for climate change

-- Julie Cart

Photo: A grizzly bear crosses a road in Yellowstone National Park in 2009.

Credit: David Grubbs / Billings (Mont.) Gazette

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