TOP SECRET ANIMAL ATTACK FILES
Special Report Filed by AAF Correspondent Tom Coleman
say this is first fatal attack
by black bear in Southeast
Monday May 22, 2000
By Don Jacobs, News-Sentinel staff writer
In what officials are calling the first fatal black bear attack in the Southeast, a 50-year-old Cosby woman was mauled Sunday as she awaited the return of a fishing companion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Rangers at the park killed two black bears found near the body about 6:30 p.m. after they were notified of the attack. Necropsies are slated for today to determine if the two dead bears are the ones involved in the mauling, said Nancy Gray, spokeswoman for the park.
The dead woman's identification was being withheld Sunday night pending notification of relatives.
"As far as we know, it's the first one (fatal attack) in the Southeast," Gray said. "It's very rare for a black bear. They're just not as aggressive as grizzlies."
Officials said the Sunday attack occurred about two miles up Little River Trail from its trailhead in Elkmont. The man and woman from Cosby, both 50, entered the park about noon to fish in the Little River.
Gray said the man was fishing and the woman was "basically accompanying him" during the outing. About 2 p.m. the man wandered to another fishing hole. Gray said she was unsure how far the man got from his companion while fishing.
About an hour later, the man returned and couldn't find the woman. He found her day pack and then located her body off the trail. Gray said the man encountered two bears -- a large female and a smaller yearling -- at the woman's body.
Gray said she was unsure if the man confronted the bears or otherwise tried to run them away from the victim's body.
Another fisherman hiked to the Elkmont campground to notify park rangers about 5 p.m. By 6:05 p.m. rangers had gotten to the scene of the attack and within 30 minutes located two bears thought to be the culprits.
Gray said there are about 1,700 black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Black bears average 200 to 300 pounds but large males can weigh 400 pounds or more, she said.
Officials want to make sure rangers killed the two bears involved in the fatal attack to assure an aggressive animal is not still roaming the area.
"We've never had a case where a bear was this aggressive," Gray said. "We normally tell visitors to be dominant and wave things and yell when they encounter a black bear because the bear usually will run off."
Until officials are sure they have the two bears involved in the attack, Gray said backcountry campsites 21, 23, 24 and 30 have been closed. All those campsites are in the Little River drainage. Reservations have been made by campers for some of those sites.
"There'll be signs to let people know those sites are closed," Gray said.
Once the necropsies at the University of Tennessee confirm rangers killed the bears responsible, the closures will be lifted, Gray said.
Necropsies will include examinations of the bears' stomach contents.
Gray said National Park Service officials in Washington will be queried today to determine if this is the first recorded fatal black bear attack in any national park. In 1989 a woman was hospitalized after a black bear attack in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but Gray noted most such incidents involve minor puncture wounds.
Copyright © 1999-2000, The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co. All Rights Reserved.