August 26, 2012 (Washington Post)
A hiker in Alaska’s Denali National Park photographed a grizzly bear for at least eight minutes before the bear mauled and killed him in the first fatal attack in the park’s history, officials said Saturday.
Investigators have recovered the camera and looked at the photographs, which show the bear grazing and not acting aggressively before the attack, Denali Park Superintendent Paul Anderson said.
The hiker was identified late Saturday as Richard White, 49, of San Diego. He was backpacking alone along the Toklat River on Friday afternoon when he came within 50 yards of the bear, far closer than the quarter-mile of separation required by park rules, officials said.
“They show the bear grazing in the willows, not acting aggressive in any form or manner during that period of time,” Anderson said of the photos.
Officials learned of the attack after hikers stumbled upon an abandoned backpack along the river about three miles from a rest area on Friday afternoon. The hikers also spotted torn clothing and blood. They immediately hiked back and alerted staff park.
Rangers in a helicopter spotted a large male grizzly bear sitting on the hiker’s remains, which they called a “food cache” in the underbrush about 100 to 150 yards from the site of the attack on Friday.
A state trooper shot and killed the male bear on Saturday. Investigators examined the bear’s stomach contents, looked at White’s photos and used other tests Saturday evening to confirm that it was the animal that killed White, park officials said in a statement Saturday night.
White’s remains were recovered Saturday evening and were being sent to the medical examiner in Anchorage.
There’s no indication that the man’s death was the result of anything other than a bear attack, investigators said, adding that it’s the first known fatal mauling in the park’s nearly century-long history.
“Over the years, and especially since the 1970s, the park has worked very diligently to minimize the conflict between humans and wildlife in the park,” Anderson said. “We have some of the most stringent human-wildlife conflict regulations in the National Park system, and I think those are largely responsible for the fact that there hasn’t been a fatal attack.”
White had been in the Denali backcountry for three nights and may have recently hiked in other areas of Alaska, park officials said. It was unknown if he had previous backcountry experience in Denali.
Park officials said they don’t believe other registered backpackers are in the immediate area. That portion of the park is closed but other wilderness areas remain open, officials said.
Prior to receiving a permit to hike in the area, all backpackers in the park receive mandatory bear awareness training that teaches them to stay at least a quarter-mile away from bears, and to slowly back away if they find themselves any closer. Investigators confirmed that the hiker had received that training.
Denali is located 240 miles north of Anchorage. It spans more than 6 million acres and is home to numerous wild animals, including bears, wolves, caribou and moose.