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Grizzly Bear Attacks And Kills Backpacker

Denali National Park and Preserve

National Park News

Richard White, 49, of San Diego, was killed by a grizzly bear on Friday while on a solo backpacking trip in the park. White had been in the Denali backcountry for three nights when he was killed. He may have recently hiked in other areas of Alaska prior to coming to the park, but it is not known at this time if he had previous backcountry experience in Denali. On Saturday afternoon, state troopers assisting rangers and park wildlife biologists shot and killed a bear that was defending the kill site along the Toklat River as the recovery team attempted to reach White’s remains. The bear killed was a large male bear. After determining the area was safe, a team of five rangers moved in to complete the field investigation. White’s remains were removed Saturday evening and will be sent to the medical examiner in Anchorage.  The body of the dead bear was necropsied Saturday evening. The results of the necropsy, combined with the photographs taken by the victim prior to the attack, confirm that this was the animal that killed White. On Friday afternoon, three day hikers discovered an abandoned backpack and evidence of a violent struggle along the Toklat River approximately three miles south of the Toklat River rest area and immediately notified the park. Rangers launched a helicopter and an airplane from park headquarters that evening.  At least one grizzly bear was still at the site, although there may have been multiple bears.  The bear(s) moved away when the helicopter approached and landed.  Two rangers on board the helicopter got out and confirmed the location of the victim’s remains. After a short time a bear returned to the cache site while the rangers were investigating the scene, forcing the rangers to retreat to the gravel bar. The bear then began to circle around them. Rangers fired two rifle shots at it, but the bear was not hit. The rangers were able to leave by helicopter as darkness was setting in. Evidence indicates that the attack occurred near the river’s open braided gravel bar and that the bear subsequently dragged the remains to a more secluded, brushy cache site.  An emergency closure has been put in place prohibiting all backcountry hiking and camping in that backcountry unit and those adjacent to it until further notice.  Although no park visitors were sighted or known to be in the immediate vicinity of the incident, park staff contacted three parties in adjacent areas and flew them via helicopter to the Toklat River rest area. This incident is the first known bear mauling fatality recorded in Denali. All backpackers in the park receive mandatory ‘Bear Aware’ training prior to receiving a backcountry permit, including a 30-minute safety video and a safety briefing from the backcountry ranger staff. Backpackers are also required to carry a bear resistant food container.  More details on this fatal incident will be released as the investigation continues.


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