Back-to-back fatal maulings of people by black bears in Alaska appear to be flukes by rogue animals, experts said Tuesday.
But they warn that people venturing into bear habitats should always carry repellent spray or guns.
In the first attack, a black bear killed 16-year-old runner Patrick Cooper, who got lost competing in a mountain race south of Anchorage, on Sunday.
On Monday, an unnamed man working at a remote gold exploration site several hundred miles away from the Pogo Mines was mauled to death. A second worker was injured by the same black bear.
The deaths occurred within 36 hours of each other – but only six deaths had previously been linked to black bears in Alaska in the past 130 years.
Back-to-back fatal maulings of people by black bears in Alaska appear to be flukes by rogue animals, experts said Tuesday. Here, a sign warns people that the trail head is closed on Monday, June 19, 2017, after a fatal bear mauling at Bird Ridge Trail in Anchorage, Alaska
The first occurred on Sunday, when authorities say a black bear killed 16-year-old runner Patrick Cooper while he was competing in an Alaskan race on Bird Ridge trail (pictured) after he got lost
On Monday, an unnamed man working at a remote gold exploration site several hundred miles away from the Pogo Mines (pictured) was also mauled to death
Such predatory maulings by black bears are rare, akin to being struck by lightning, state Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh said.
‘To have two in two days is an anomaly,’ he said. ‘It just doesn’t happen.’
Attacks by brown or grizzly bears are far more common, particularly in defensive actions such as when a female bear is protecting her cubs, experts said.
Now-retired state bear biologist John Hechtel tracked Alaska’s fatal bear maulings between 1980 and 2014 and counted only three fatal maulings by black bears.
Meanwhile, there were 15 killings of people by brown or grizzly bears during the same period and one fatal mauling by a polar bear.
Hechtel said he can’t say why the most recent black bear attacks occurred, given so much remains unknown. But he doesn’t believe it points to any kind of trend.
‘I think it’s just a coincidence,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything related.’
The best defense against bear attacks, said Hechtel and others, is for people who head into Alaska’s back country to carry bear repellent or guns with them.
Hechtel is an advocate for carrying bear repellent, however, saying it’s a safer alternative than guns for people who aren’t sharpshooters.
The two bear attacks took place around 200 miles apart on Sunday afternoon and Monday – within 36 hours of each other
Experts say that two attacks – and so clos together – by black bears (pictured) is unheard of. Attacks by brown or grizzly bears are far more common, particularly in defensive actions such as when a female bear is protecting her cubs
Linda Purviance of Anchorage (pictured right, bird watching at Westchester Lagoon) said she felt sorry for the families of two people who were mauled to death in Alaska this week by black bears, but said that wont’t stop her from spending time in the Alaskan outdoors
Linda Purviance lives in Anchorage part-time, volunteering at a bird viewing area south of the city that’s part of a state refuge system. She has been trained in understanding bears and, while she doesn’t worry about herself, she worries for others.
‘We’re all out enjoying the outdoors. There can always be a problem, and people sometimes handle it right, sometimes they don’t handle it right,’ Pruviance said while bird watching at Anchorage’s Westchester Lagoon on Tuesday with her friend, Karen Wofford.
‘To me, we have so much crime in the Lower 48,’ Wofford, from Santa Rosa, California, said.
‘I can get shot walking down my neighborhood street by a gang member, and I don’t even live in a big town, really. So to me, this just represents part of the risk of living in Alaska.’
The maulings won’t be prompting any extra protective measures in another popular mountain race in Alaska, the upcoming Independence Day Mount Marathon in Seward – about 110 miles south of Anchorage.
Organizers implemented new safety rules after a rookie competitor, 65-year-old Michael LeMaitre’s, disappearance during the 2012 event. There are bears on the mountain, but nothing to indicate he was mauled.