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Grizzly was defending cubs when attack occurred
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Bear attack

Grizzly was defending cubs when attack occurred

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YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — Park officials on Thursday continued to patrol the backcountry area where a 57-year-old California man was killed Wednesday by a grizzly bear.

Brian Matayoshi, of Torrance, Calif., was fatally mauled by the female grizzly shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday while hiking with his wife, Marylyn, on the Wapiti Lake Trail near Canyon.

Park officials said the bear was acting to protect her two cubs and will not be captured.

Park rangers patrolled the area Thursday and were interviewing hikers who were in the area when the attack occurred. Most trails in the area remain closed.

At a press conference Thursday, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said the Matayoshis hiked more than a mile down the Wapiti Lake Trail when they entered an area of dense lodgepole pine.

There they saw the sow foraging roughly 100 yards away, Wenk said.

“They started to back away down the trail in the same direction they had come,” Wenk said. “After a time, they turned to walk. When they turned back to look and see what the bear’s behavior was, by that point, the bear was in a full charge toward them.”

Matayoshi told his wife to run, but the couple was quickly overtaken. The bear knocked Matayoshi to the ground while his wife took cover off the trail behind a fallen tree.

Moments later, the bear left Matayoshi and found his wife. The bear lifted her by the day pack she was wearing, quickly released her and went away.

“Mrs. Matayoshi went to her husband to observe his condition and seek help,” Wenk said. “She tried calling 911 but got no service. She began calling out for help.”

Her calls for help were heard by six nearby hikers. They were able to find cell service and call 911. Two park rangers working backcountry patrol in the area were dispatched to the scene.

When rangers arrived, Wenk said, Matayoshi was dead. His wife didn’t suffer serious injuries. Rangers cleared hikers from the area. The trails were closed, as was South Rim Drive, which leads to the area.

“In terms of bear behavior, the bear’s actions were consistent with a bear in a defensive posture,” Yellowstone wildlife biologist Kerry Gunther said. “We didn’t see anything predatory in terms of its action.”

Gunther said park biologists have already collected grizzly hair and scat samples from the area. If another incident were to occur, he said, biologists could use the DNA to determine if the same bear was involved.

At this point, Gunther said, there’s no reason to believe the bear would repeat such behavior. The animal was defending its two 6-month-old cubs when it attacked the hikers, he said.

The Matayoshis weren’t carrying bear spray, park officials said.

Gunther said park officials don’t plan to capture the bear. He said it was too early in the season to know how many sows are with cubs in Yellowstone.

“On average, we usually have 14 to 15 females who produce cubs each year,” Gunther said. “So far, we’ve only documented three to four females with cubs.”

Earlier Thursday, a bulldozer blocked access to South Rim Drive while park rangers passed out “bear aware” cards to motorists.

“It’s the same information that’s in the park literature, which everyone receives when they come in,” Ranger Steve Cook said. “I often tell people they shouldn’t be fearful of bears. They just need to be respectful of bears.”

Cook, a wildlife education ranger, said many motorists were unaware of Wednesday’s incident. Those who did stop asked why South Rim Drive was closed.

Yellowstone Falls, which sits just down the road, is one of the park’s premier attractions.

“Without any kind of Internet in the park, or televisions in the lodges, most people aren’t even aware this has happened,” Cook said. “We’re telling them there was a fatal mauling yesterday, because that’s what happened.”

Cook pointed out that on average one person a year is injured in Yellowstone by a bear. With more than 3.5 million visitors a year, the encounters are rare.

Wednesday’s fatal mauling was the first in Yellowstone in 25 years, though two people were killed by grizzlies just outside the park in separate incidents last year.

Park visitors have been cooperative, officials said.

“When you let them know why the area is closed, for the most part, they appreciate the fact that the Park Service is making sure it’s a safe area before the public is allowed to go back,” said Kirrin Peart, an interpretive ranger who help staff the closure.

Park officials continued Thursday to patrol the area by helicopter. South Rim Drive was opened at around noon.

“We do have a significant outreach to visitors to Yellowstone to make them aware they’re in bear county,” said Nick Herring, deputy chief ranger of operations. “All trailheads are posted with a sign for general bear awareness, and if we have carcasses or high bear activity, we’d close that area to backcountry use.”

No carcasses were nearby when the attack occurred, and park officials had posted a sign saying bears were frequenting the area.

Contact Martin Kidston at mkidston@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.

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