BILLINGS, Mont. — Wildlife officials euthanized a grizzly bear today after DNA tests determined that the sow and her cubs were responsible for a triple mauling that killed a Michigan man and injured two other campers.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said in a statement that hair, saliva and tissue samples tested in a DNA identification lab in Laramie, Wyo., confirmed the adult bear was the same one that rampaged through Soda Butte Campground near Yellowstone National Park early Wednesday.
The sow’s three cubs will be “sent to a zoo as soon as possible,” the statement said.
State officials have asked if ZooMontana is interested in taking the cubs, said Jackie Worstell, executive director of the Billings zoo. Worstell said the zoo would add the cubs to its grizzly exhibit, which already features a Eurasian brown bear and another grizzly from Yellowstone.
Worstell said she doesn’t believe the cubs will have learned the predatory behavior that their mother displayed in the unprovoked attacks at the campground.
“They’re so young and it was a one-time incident,” she said.
A final decision was expected today or Saturday, she said.
Officials will perform an autopsy on the sow to determine if any physical ailments or conditions caused her to attack the campers, said Chris Servheen, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator.
Grizzly bears that display unprovoked aggressive behavior toward humans, or cause death or substantial human injury, should be removed from the population, under Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Guidelines, an agreement among eight state and federal agencies, state wildlife officials said.
The sow and two of the three cubs were trapped by Thursday, and the last cub was captured early today. The bears — crying and scratching at the steel sides of traps — were taken from the Soda Butte Campground in a three-truck convoy to Bozeman.
Their departure brought relief among residents and visitors in Cooke City, an old mining town just outside Yellowstone National Park that was jolted by news that three people were attacked as they slept in separate tents.
“They captured them? All of them?” asked Linda Olson. The 60-year-old nurse from Minnesota let out a sigh when she learned the answer was yes.
Authorities said the bear family, under the tutelage of the mother, specifically targeted campers — a sharp departure from the usual behavior of grizzlies attacking only when threatened or surprised.
Evidence indicated all three cubs likely participated in what Warden Capt. Sam Sheppard called a sustained attack on Kevin Kammer, 48, of Grand Rapids, Mich. He was pulled from his tent and dragged 25 feet. At least one of the bears fed on his body.
Fibers from a tent or sleeping bag were in the droppings of the captured bears, and a tooth fragment found in a tent appears to match a chipped tooth on the sow, which weighed more than 300 pounds.
Despite the unusual nature of the attacks, there also was a realization in Cooke City that bear run-ins would continue. Three million tourists a year visit the remote and wild Yellowstone region of Montana and Wyoming, which has an estimated 600 grizzlies.
“It’s a great spot, but you have to realize we’re in their home. We’re part of the food chain,” said Pat Froelich, 75, as she ate breakfast at the Bear Claw Bakery and watched the trucks haul the grizzlies from town.
The two other victims, Deb Freele of London, Ontario, and Ronald Singer of Alamosa, Colo., were initially hospitalized in Cody, Wyo.
Singer, 21, was treated and released. Freele was scheduled to have surgery today for bite wounds and a broken bone in her arm, said her husband, Bill Freele. He expected her to be released from the hospital sometime this weekend.
Deb Freele is a native of Michigan and knew Kammer but did not realize he was in the same campground or that he was the victim until she saw his picture with a story about the maulings, her husband said.
Bill Freele was in Cooke City on today retrieving the couple’s camping equipment. He said he agreed that the mother bear should be killed “because it tasted humans.”
He was fine with placing the cubs in a zoo. “Just don’t tell me where it is,” he said.