Wolf Song of Alaska News

Grizzly Mystery

DNA tests clear bear suspected of mauling cyclist

James Halpin / Anchorage Daily News / August 31, 2008

The sow grizzly shot and killed on suspicion that it mauled at least one person and chased several others in Far North Bicentennial Park this summer was cleared of the most severe attack by genetic testing results announced Wednesday.

Of the sow's two orphaned cubs, one was captured Wednesday and taken to the Alaska Zoo, while the other remained at large despite reemerging at the scene of its mother's death.

The cubs' mother was shot after biologists spotted the family eating a bull moose carcass in a Stuckagain Heights yard Tuesday morning, more than a week after the mauling of Clivia Feliz on Aug. 8 on the park's Rover's Run Trail. Biologists suspect the same sow was responsible for charging, but not injuring, several others this summer.

Genetic testing that compared the sow's DNA to samples taken from the helmet and bicycle of 15-year-old Petra Davis, who was severely mauled along Rover's Run in late June, indicate the sow was not responsible for the attack, said Dr. Sandra Talbot of the U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center.

"The DNA doesn't match. It appears as though that bear wasn't involved in the Petra Davis attack," she said. "It's just preliminary, but I'm pretty confident of the results."

Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokesman Bruce Bartley said no one saw the bear involved in the nighttime attack on Davis, and there was never any indication that it was a sow with cubs. Motion-activated cameras set up this month along the trail in the wake of the attack on Feliz detected only one sow with cubs, he said.

Other single bears were caught on film, though. More than two dozen grizzlies have been catalogued along Campbell Creek in recent years.

Fur markings on the cubs at the Stuckagain yard were a definite match to those spotted in the trail photos, Bartley said. Officials were also fairly certain the sow in the photos was the one that attacked Feliz, he said.

"Just given the proximity, and the frequency of their being seen in that country, it's just unlikely that there's a mix-up," Bartley said. "I'm not suggesting that we've got all the brown bears on record, but the only other sow that we know with cubs this year never ventures in that part of the world."

Talbot said genetic testing on samples from the second attack was still in progress, with preliminary results likely expected next week.

The cubs orphaned after the sow was killed are about 8 months old and still nursing, Bartley said.

The thigh-high male darted Tuesday night was at the Anchorage Zoo on Wednesday while he awaited transfer to another zoo in the Midwest. He appeared to be adapting well to an enclosure built for rescued cubs, said zoo director Pat Lampi. During the afternoon, the cub was busy exploring its cage and munching on salmon and dog food.

The other cub was spotted in Stuckagain on Wednesday morning, but biologists were unsuccessful at catching it because a solid shot eluded them, Bartley said. Failing to get one could mean being unable to find the cub after it "takes off like a scalded cat" when darted, he said.
The property owners have been asked to call biologists if the cub returns, but time could be short for it, he said. Starvation and predation by other bears top the list of dangers it faces, Bartley said.
"Male brown bears are notorious cub killers, and they'll munch that guy in a heartbeat," he said.

Despite the kill, city officials weren't taking chances. Even before the DNA results were released Wednesday, they said Rover's Run will remain closed, likely until snow falls, because of the bear activity.

Anchorage Parks and Recreation director Jeff Dillon has recommended the trail remain closed because salmon are still spawning and the summer has simply seen too much action.

"We've had unusual bear activity this year, and we think it was the right thing to do for public safety," Dillon said. "Since we can't clearly know that it was a rogue bear and not just increased bear activity, we are going to maintain the closure."

Despite the closure, three bicyclists were photographed using the trail by the motion-activated cameras, some missing an encounter with a bear by just a few hours, Bartley said.

The city planned to collect the photos but didn't have any immediate plans to cite the three scofflaws, Dillon said. The trail has been blocked with a wooden gate and signs have been posted, but it has not physically been shut down.

Police said violators caught on the trail could be charged with trespassing -- a criminal misdemeanor -- though officers have not been patrolling the area beyond their normal routine. Nor were they planning to search the photos in an effort to catch violators.

"We honestly don't have the manpower to try to identify people," said police spokeswoman Anita Shell. "We try to identify people who are involved in criminal activity. If they choose to put their safety at risk, that's their choice, but we have advised them. We have warned them."

Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.

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