August 16, 2010 in Region

Grizzly in maulings was stressed, had parasites

Matthew Brown Associated Press
Montana Fish, Wildlife And Parks photo

This image provided on Friday July 30, 2010, by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department shows a captured grizzly sow believed to be responsible for the mauling death of one camper and injuries to two others near Yellowstone National Park in Montana.
(Full-size photo)

BILLINGS, Mont. — Hunger and internal parasites afflicted a grizzly bear that mauled three campers near Yellowstone National Park, but investigators said today those factors failed to explain such aggressive predatory behavior.

The bear’s late-night rampage through a crowded campground was the most brazen by a Yellowstone grizzly in a quarter-century. It left one man dead and two people with serious injuries.

But after an in-depth investigation, state and federal wildlife officials on today produced a 70-page report that left unanswered a crucial question: Why did the bear attack?

“The reality is grizzly bears are predators,” said Warden Capt. Sam Sheppard with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, who helped produce the report. “You never know when they’re going to revert to a predatory response.”

Kevin Kammer, 48, of Grand Rapids, Mich., was killed and two people were hospitalized after the 216-pound grizzly tore into their tents in a nighttime attack July 28 at the Soda Butte Campground near Cooke City. There was no evidence of food left out by campers that might have attracted the bear.

The grizzly was captured a day later at the same campground, then was euthanized. Its three cubs are now in a Billings zoo.

Deb Freele, 58, of London, Ontario, suffered leg and arm wounds when the bear ripped into her tent and bit her. As she continues physical therapy to regain the use of her arm, Freele said today she had hoped investigators would come up with an explanation for the attack.

“It leaves me unsettled,” she said. “There’s nothing I can think of doing, outside of not going camping there, that would have changed the outcome.”

Wildlife officials have said the animal appeared to be targeting humans and today’s report said “the bear(s) consumed a significant portion of Kammer’s torso.”

“In some cases, the bear apparently reached under the rain fly and bit through the tent or the insect screen of the tent to reach the campers inside,” the report said.

During the investigation, a seven-member team of state and federal officials looked at the bear’s diet, health, past behavior and the condition of her three cubs.

DNA tests on strands of hair found at the campground linked the mother bear to the attacks. And a vegetarian diet was blamed for the mother grizzly’s poor body condition, which the report said was “made worse by a load of parasites found in her small intestine.”

Otherwise, nothing stood out, said Chris Servheen, a grizzly researcher with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Tests for rabies and other diseases came back negative following a necropsy.

The grizzly and her cubs had been sighted around the Cooke City area at least twice in the weeks leading up to the attacks. Rumors have since floated around the community that a photographer had been baiting bears in the area with food.

Those rumors remain unsubstantiated, investigators said today. And there was no sign the attacking grizzzly had become habituated to humans, which is often to blame when bears have run-ins with people.

The necropsy suggested the bear had not eaten human food for at least the last two years. That conclusion was based on a carbon isotope analysis of hair, blood and serum from the bear that showed very low levels of types of carbon common in human and pet foods.

Bear specialist Kevin Frey with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the findings underscored that even though bears are omnivores — eating everything from pine nuts to ants to elk — they are still predators that can act as carnivores.

“She obviously was hurting for higher value foods. What caused her mentally to do that, we don’t know,” Frey said. “There are a lot of bears that are nutritionally challenged at times that don’t exhibit that type of behavior.”

© Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

There are four comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email