YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — A 57-year-old man died Wednesday south of Canyon Village from injuries suffered in a grizzly bear attack, the National Park Service said.
Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said the attack occurred on the Wapiti Lake Trail, located east of Grand Loop Road and south of Canyon Village.
The man’s name and hometown have not been released by park officials. An investigation of the incident has begun. It was the first bear-caused human fatality in Yellowstone in 25 years but the third in the Yellowstone region in just more than a year.
“It is extremely unfortunate that this couple’s trip into the Yellowstone backcountry has ended in tragedy,” Wenk said in a statement. “Our heart goes out to the family and friends of the victim as they work to cope with their loss.”
Park officials said the husband and wife had hiked just more than a mile down the trail when they surprised a grizzly sow with cubs.
Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said the couple saw the bear twice on their hike. The first time, they continued hiking. The second time, the grizzly was running at them and the man told his wife to run.
Park officials said the bear attacked to defend against a perceived threat. They said the victim’s wife called 911 on her cell phone and other hikers in the area responded to her cries for help.
The woman told park officials that she didn’t see the bear attack her husband. When the bear went for her, Nash said, she dropped to the ground. The grizzly lifted her off the ground by the day pack she was wearing and then dropped her.
The woman may have had scrapes and bruises but didn’t seek medical attention, Nash said.
Wenk said park rangers responded quickly to the site. A bear warning sign was posted at the trailhead, which provides access to the Pelican Valley area.
“Patrols are under way to clear the area of all backcountry users,” Wenk said. “All trails and backcountry campsites in the area have been closed until further notice.”
The bears remained at large.
Park officials said there had been no reports of bear encounters along or near the Wapiti Lake Trail this season. Nor were there any carcasses near the trail, and no research trapping of bears has taken place within the park this season.
Wenk noted that no Yellowstone visitors were injured by bears in the park in 2010. Wednesday’s fatality was the first bear-caused human death in the park since 1986.
In June 2010, a grizzly just released after being trapped and tranquilized for study killed an Illinois man hiking outside Yellowstone’s east gate. Last July, a grizzly killed a Michigan man and injured two others in a nighttime campground rampage near Cooke City.
Yellowstone and nearby surrounding areas are home at least 600 grizzlies, and some say more than 1,000.
The spokesman for the Wyoming Travel and Tourism state agency doubted that the attack would cause anybody to change their Yellowstone vacation plans.
“What has happened here hasn’t happened for a quarter-century,” Chuck Coon said. “It is very sad, though, and I’m very sorry to hear of it.”
The big bears require constant vigilance for tourists and park employees, said Caleb Platt, a service station manager at Canyon Village who said he has had a handful fairly close encounters with grizzlies while hiking in the park.
“When it’s close and you realize it does see you, it gets the heart racing,” he told The Associated Press by phone.
Park officials Wednesday issued a number of recommendations for park visitors to stay safe from backcountry bears. They included staying on designated trails, hiking in groups of three or more people, keeping alert for bears and making noise in places where a grizzly could be lurking out of sight nearby.
Bear spray is effective in stopping aggressive bears, they said.