In a fatal attack rare for the region, a grizzly bear pulled a woman from her tent and killed her Tuesday in the Montana town of Ovando.
According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks agency, Lokan and two others in a tent nearby were initially awakened by the bear at approximately 3 a.m. Tuesday, but it ran off. They then secured food they’d had in their tents and went back to bed. Greg Lemon, an administrator with the FWP, said in an email Thursday that his understanding was that the food was stored in an unspecified enclosed space away from the tents. The campers were staying overnight in a lot behind a post office frequently used by people passing through Ovando, and there was not a tree nearby from which to hang their food, as is often common practice when bears are possibly lurking.
When the other two campers heard Lokan being attacked a half-hour later, they doused the grizzly with bear spray. It again ran away and not has not been seen since.
In between those two incidents, the grizzly was caught on surveillance video near where the campers were staying. It also broke into a chicken coop, and officials are hoping it decides to return there.
“At this point, our best chance for catching this bear will be culvert traps set in the area near the chicken coop where the bear killed and ate several chickens,” said Randy Arnold, an FWP regional supervisor based in Missoula.
Lokan, a registered nurse, was accompanied on the trip by her sister and a friend, another friend told the Associated Press.
“She loved these kind of adventures,” the friend, Mary Flowers, said of Lokan. “A woman in her 60s, and she’s doing this kind of stuff — she had a passion for life that was out of the ordinary.”
Ovando is located in western Montana, approximately 70 miles northwest of Helena, the state capital. It sits at the intersection of two major biking trails, making it a popular stop for cyclists.
“Unfortunately, it puts a black eye on Ovando,” Terry Sheppard, who helps run a museum in the town, said of the attack to the Daily Montanan. She added, “We support the bicycle riders each year, and they have been an asset to us.”
“Everybody’s pretty shaken up right now. The population here is 75 — everybody knows everybody,” Ovando saloon owner Tiffanie Zararelli said Tuesday (via the AP). “The people from Montana, we know how to be ‘bear aware.’ But anything can happen.”
The FWP used the bear’s behavior and footprints to deduce it is a male weighing approximately 400 pounds. DNA was collected from the scene, and should a bear with matching DNA get caught in a trap, it will be killed, an official with the agency said.
A helicopter equipped with infrared technology was also employed in the effort to track down the grizzly. A spokesman for the FWP did not immediately respond to a request Wednesday evening for an update on the search.
North of Ovando lies the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE), which contains Glacier National Park and parts of other protected areas, and is home to approximately 1,000 grizzlies. Fatal attacks on humans in the NCDE region are rare, with three such incidents over the past 20 years, per the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (via the AP). A separate population that roams the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has been responsible for eight fatalities over a similar period, including the mauling to death of a backcountry guide in April. Both grizzly groups have grown over the past decade, according to a Fish and Wildlife Service assessment released in March, leading to an increase in their interactions with people in the Northern Rockies.
Tuesday’s attack does not represent “normal bear behavior,” Lemon said Wednesday. “Usually, human and bear conflicts stem from bears protecting food, female bears protecting cubs, or surprise encounters that result in the bear feeling threatened and attacking the person.”
“Going into a campground and attacking a person,” he added, “is not a natural instinct.”
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