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Updated: Grizzly bear who killed man was defending her cubs

The grizzly bear in Yellowstone that killed a California man last week will not be destroyed.

Yellowstone National Park officials believe the sow grizzly was protecting her young and so behaving in a defensive, not predacious manner.

“It was not predatory,” said Kerry Gunther, Yellowstone wildlife biologist, in a Thursday news conference, “so we see no reason to take action against the bear.”

Brian Matayoshi and his wife Marylyn were hiking west on Wapiti Lake Trail back to their vehicle at around 11 a.m., Wednesday, July 6. They were about one and one-half miles from the trailhead off South Rim Drive, south of Canyon Village, when they exited a forested area and entered a meadow. They saw the bear at about 100 yards away. They began backing away from the bear, then turned and walked away. “When they turned around to look, they reportedly saw the female grizzly running down the trail at them,” said a July 7 Yellowstone National Park news release.

“Mr. Matayoshi told his wife to run,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk.

The sow attacked Brian Matayoshi, then went after Marylyn, who was on the ground. The bear lifted her by her backpack, then dropped her, the release said.

She played dead and the sow left, Wenk said.

Marylyn tried dialing 911, but her cell phone had no service. She called for help, and hikers who found her were able to summon help with their cell phone, Wenk said.

Rangers arriving on the scene confirmed that Brian Matayoshi, 57, was dead, Wenk said.

That was at around 11:30 a.m., said the release.

Marylyn Matayoshi did not suffer any physical injuries, Wenk added.

“They did not have bear spray,” Wenk said.

Park spokesman Al Nash said the Matayoshis had seen the bear earlier in their hike.

There are no plans to capture the bear, but the area will be monitored from the air. They will get DNA information from the bear’s stool, Wenk said.

Evidence suggests the sow was acting defensively to protect what park officials believe are two 6-month-old cubs, Wenk said.

“It is indicative of defensive (behavior),” said Gunther. Predatory encounters usually entail silent slow approaches by bears.

Marylyn did not witness the actual attack, but it appears it was over quickly, Gunther said.

Responding to a question, Wenk said he did not believe the sow will kill more humans.

The sow had not been captured or tagged previously for study purposes, and there have been no reports of aggressive behavior by the bear, Gunther said.

On average, there is one human injured by a bear each year in Yellowstone, and usually the bear inflicting injury does not attack humans again, he said.

There were no deaths by bears in Yellowstone last year, but a hiker was killed by a male grizzly east of the park last spring, and a camper was killed and partially eaten by a grizzly sow near Cooke City, Mont., northeast of the park last summer. Two other campers were mauled in that attack.

In 1984, a grizzly killed a person in Yellowstone’s Pelican Valley, and another person was killed in 1986 in Hayden Valley.

A board of review composed of interagency experts will be convened to review the incident, Wenk said.

Park visitors are encouraged to stay on designated trails, hike in groups of three or more people, be alert for bears and make noise in blind spots. Visitors also are encouraged to carry bear pepper spray, which has been shown to be highly successful in stopping aggressive behavior in bears.

Trail closures

Wapiti Lake trail will remain closed for the foreseeable future, Nash said.

South Rim Drive was opened Thursday, but hiking trails south of the drive remain closed until the Park Service determines it is safe for the public to return, Wenk said.

Closed until further notice are the following trails and trailheads originating from the South Rim of the Canyon: Clear Lake trail, Ribbon Lake trail, Wrangler Lake trail, Sour Creek trail, and the Howard Eaton trail, from Fishing Bridge to Canyon are closed. Upper Pelican Creek trail from Mudkettles to the northwest side of Wapiti Lake is closed.

Artist Point, Uncle Tom’s and the South Rim trail between Chittenden Bridge and Artist Point are open, said the Yellowstone backcountry situation report Monday.

Public responses have reflected concern for the victim’s family, and most people want the bear protected, Wenk said.

1 comment

  • posted by Karen Thomas

    July 24, 2011 5:56 pm

    I can not believe some of the ignorant comments that the bear should be put down! It is never an animals fault! Swimming with sharks can produce the same results. (being bit) Animals are not people and do not follow human laws. There are risks involved when humans enter areas designed for animals. Just because there is a road or path does not mean it's safe to travel. Pure stupidity! The missed point and message is: stay out or take the risk in your own hands. The bears can't live in the low lands like they once were. In fact grizzlies use to roam through out north America at one time. They want privacy and humans constantly intrude. Soon there won't be grizzlies in the wild. Just leave them alone and stay out of their area. We will never learn! Same mistakes over and over again. Man gets mauled. Man gets mauled? It would be nice to read how humans have realized the park is for us to visit and view from safe and respectful distances. Bears and other wild life thriving. Success!

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