A southern California man killed by a grizzly bear in Alaska’s Denali National Park spent eight minutes shooting photos of the animal that killed him just moments before the attack, a National Park Service official said Sunday.
This was the first fatal attack by a grizzly bear in the history of the park, which is located 240 miles north of Anchorage, spans more than 6 million acres and is home to numerous wild animals, including bears, wolves, caribou and moose.
Investigators have recovered the camera and looked at the photographs, which show the bear grazing and not acting aggressively before the attack, Denali Park Superintendent Paul Anderson said.
“The bear was generally unaware that he was there until the last couple of shots, then his attention turned,” park spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin said.
The photographs “are not that demonstrative” and show “nothing graphic, or any showing major signs of aggression,” McLaughlin said. “We’re not sure what happened after the camera was put down.”
The hiker was identified late Saturday as Richard White, from San Diego, California. After three days out his own, he was backpacking alone along the Toklat River on Friday afternoon when he came within 50 yards of the bear, far closer than the quarter-mile of separation required by park rules.
Officials learned of the attack after hikers stumbled upon an abandoned backpack along the river about three miles from a rest area on Friday afternoon. The hikers also spotted torn clothing and blood. They immediately hiked back and alerted staff park.
Rangers in a helicopter spotted a large male grizzly bear sitting on the hiker’s remains in the underbrush about 100 to 150 yards from the site of the attack on Friday.
State troopers, park rangers and wildlife biologists, using the photos to identify the “large male bear,” shot and killed the animal as it was still “defending the kill site along the Toklat River as the recovery team attempted to reach White’s remains,” the park service said. A necropsy of the bear Saturday night confirmed it was the animal that killed White.
Did state troopers really need to kill this bear, in order to cut it open and make sure they had the right creature? No, obviously they didn’t.
Two wrongs do not make a right. This grizzly bear was behaving exactly as bears are supposed to behave, and he did not deserve to be shot dead.
Prior to receiving a permit to hike in the area, all backpackers in the park receive mandatory bear awareness training that teaches them to stay at least a quarter-mile away from bears, and to slowly back away if they find themselves any closer. Investigators confirmed that the hiker had received that training. So Richard White chose to deliberately ignore the park ordinance.
I have not visited Denali, but I have backpacked in Glacier National Park, where my son and I were required to listen to a lecture, watch a video, and answer questions about how to behave around grizzly bears. The National Park rangers take their responsibility very seriously, which is why there hasn’t been a bear mauling fatality in Denali until now.
We can’t know what Richard White was thinking, but he clearly did not understand that grizzly bears are wild animals and need to be respected as such.
What do you think? Should state troopers have shot this grizzly?
Photo Credit: Douglas Brown
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