ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A grizzly bear has killed a backpacker in Denali National Park in the first fatal mauling at the Alaskan nature site since it was created in 1917, the National Park Service said on Saturday.
The bear suspected of attacking the man on Friday afternoon, a large male grizzly, was found at a secluded site near the man’s body and was shot on Saturday afternoon from a helicopter, Denali park Superintendent Paul Anderson said.
Officials hope to recover the man’s body on Saturday evening, but those efforts have been hampered by bad weather. Anderson said they were trying to contact his family and they had not yet been notified.
Investigators will try to confirm the dead grizzly attacked the man by examining its stomach contents, conducting DNA analysis and analyzing bear scat, said Pete Webster, chief ranger for the park.
“All that we know of this bear right now was at the time that we were flying over the incident scene, this bear was sitting on the food cache in the underbrush,” Webster said.
The attack occurred at the Toklat River, about three miles south of a rest stop on the park’s sole road, the Park Service said. There were no established trails at the site. Most of the park is free of trails.
Hikers found an abandoned backpack, bloody clothes and signs of a struggle on Friday. They summoned rangers, who flew to the site by helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft and found the body.
The bear apparently attacked the man near the river’s gravel bar and dragged his remains to a more secluded site in the bushes, the Park Service said.
A camera found near the backpack showed that the hiker had photographed the bear for more than eight minutes and appeared to have come within 50 yards of the animal before he was attacked, Anderson said.
The photographs do not show the attack, Anderson said. “They show the bear grazing in the willows and not acting aggressive in any form or manner during that period of time,” he said.
Park rules require people to stay a quarter-mile away from bears and to immediately back away at a slow pace if they find themselves to be closer.
The death marks the first fatal bear mauling on record since the national park was created in 1917 as Mount McKinley National Park, officials said.
The last major attack in memory at the 6 million-acre Denali Park and Preserve was about four decades ago when a park employee was seriously injured, said Maureen McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for Denali Park.
Park officials say Denali, one of Alaska’s top tourist attractions, has a robust bear-safety program. Backpackers are required to receive “Bear Aware” training that includes a 30-minute safety video and a briefing from a ranger before they receive permits to hike and camp, the Park Service said.
Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Todd Eastham