Authorities believe a Montana man who went missing in Yellowstone National Park on Friday was killed by a grizzly bear, and park rangers think they have the suspect in custody.
Wildlife biologists captured the bear over the weekend using a bear trap, Julena Campbell, a Yellowstone spokeswoman, told The Washington Post on Monday. Campbell said investigators are now trying to determine whether the female grizzly was involved in the fatal attack by comparing DNA samples and paw tracks to those taken from the scene and looking for signs of human remains in the animal’s waste.
If the evidence points to a match, Campbell said, the bear will be euthanized. If that happens and park officials are unable to find a home for the bear’s two cubs — one has been captured, the other remains in the wild — both animals will also be euthanized.
“Fortunately, these kind of incidents don’t happen that often,” Campbell said. “There’s not a lot of evidence to show that it is necessarily a learned behavior, but it can be. We know they are creatures of habit and that bears get habituated pretty quickly when they learn something is a food source.”
She added: “We have 3.5 million people coming to Yellowstone each year and risking those lives is not a chance we’re willing to take.”
The victim, identified Monday as 63-year-old Lance Crosby from Billings, Mont., was described as an “experienced hiker” who had lived and worked in the park for five seasons, a National Park Service statement said. A park ranger found him “partially consumed” a half-mile from the Elephant Back Loop Trail in a “popular off-trail area he was known to frequent,” the statement said.
Although the exact cause of Crosby’s death is under investigation, his body had defensive wounds on his forearms, the statement said. Based on partial tracks found at the scene, authorities believe an adult female grizzly and at least one cub had probably been involved in the incident. Park rangers and wildlife biologists have been at the scene gathering evidence for bear DNA recovery, although heavy rains have made the effort more difficult, the statement said.
A forensic autopsy is scheduled for Monday.
“We may not be able to conclusively determine the circumstances of this bear attack, but we will not risk public safety,” Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said, according to the statement. “We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victim as they work to cope with the loss of someone who loved Yellowstone so very much.”
Crosby was a long-term seasonal employee of Medcor, a company that operates three urgent care clinics in the park. He was reported missing on Friday morning when he did not show up for work, the statement said.
Campbell said the bear would have a better chance of surviving if there had been witnesses when Crosby was attacked who could confirm that the animal was defending her cubs. Because the attack lacked witnesses, park officials are unwilling to risk another attack without knowing what provoked the first one, she said.
“There are certainly people that have a hard time with the decision to euthanize the bear and that includes some of our biologists and park rangers,” Campbell told The Post. “We don’t get into the profession for that reason, but we have to make the decision for sound science and putting the safety of humans first. We can’t favor one individual bear over protecting the lives of humans.”
The last fatality caused by a bear attack occurred in 2011, a year when two people were killed in separate incidents, according to the National Park Service. Those deaths were the first to occur in the park in 25 years, Campbell told The Post.
“Since 1916, the first year anyone was recorded being killed by a bear in the park, there have been eight fatalities,” she said. “It’s very rare.”
Between 674 and 839 grizzly bears are thought to roam the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, according to the National Park Service.
Park regulations state that people must keep at least 100 yards away from bears, but four fatalities have been reported from 2010 to 2014, according to CNN.
This post, originally published on Aug. 9, has been updated.
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