HELENA Mont. (NewsNation Now) — A camper in a tiny western Montana who was attacked and killed by a grizzly bear onTuesday is the most recent in a string of bear encounters, from a kitchen in Nevada City, California to a backyard in Bradbury, California, some encounters are getting too close for comfort.
“We started hearing a lot of the onlookers above us screaming, ‘Don’t freak out. Don’t run, be careful,'” recalled hiker Kenneth Fregozo.
A 4th of July hike up Mt. Wilson in Los Angeles turned into a frightening time for Fregozo, who stepped in as the bear chased fellow hikers.
“I picked up my chair and I like put the chair between the bear and the guy, and then, I was in front of the bear. You know, using the chair and one arm to fend them off,” he recalled.
Leah Davis Lokan, 65, of Chico, California, was on a long-distance bicycling trip and had stopped in the western Montana town of Ovando when she was killed early Tuesday, said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials as they provided more details about the attack.
“Two people in the one tent were roused by the attack and come out of the tent, saw the attack in progress and took bear spray, sprayed at the bear. The bear ran away and we haven’t seen it since, said Greg Lemon, spokesperson for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Lemon says while the search for the bear continues, campers have to always be aware
“Even camping in a town, with food in your tent it is just something we really advise against in grizzly bear country,” Lemon said.
Bear attacks are not common with only 40 attacks globally every year and only eight fatalities in Yellowstone National Park since 1872.
Most attacks, including mine, were surprise encounters at short range,” said Dr. Barrie Gilbert.
Gilbert taught animal behavior at Utah State University and is a survivor of a grizzly bear attack.
“Now the exceptions where people are pulled out of tents are the scariest,” he said. “Those are often explorer bears that are in new territories, maybe new areas, and they’re extremely hungry.”
In Gilbert’s book, “One of Us,” he paints a picture of bears as while not quite Yogi and Smokey, still quite different from the one seen in the media.
“The bears are complex, sentient animals that have a culture of their own, that socially transmitted from mother to young,” Gilbert said.
Dr. Gilbert says that if you do see a bear in your summer travels just back up.
“If you see them and then back away, then you’ve done the number one and safety procedures,” he said.
If a bear comes through a campsite, it’s important to stay on the lookout for the animal to return, Lemon said.
Wildlife officials initially used helicopter flights to search for the grizzly. They also set up large traps — made out of culverts and baited with roadkill — in and around Ovando. That included traps near a chicken coop that the bear raided the night Lokan was killed, as well as near the campsite.
Investigators obtained DNA left by the bear in the attack and could compare it with any bruin they are able to trap. Bear specialists and game wardens also were stationed near the traps to shoot the animal if the opportunity arises, said Greg Lemon, spokesperson for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
“Our best chance would be if the bear comes back and tries to get another chicken or some more food around town,” Lemon said.
The wardens feel they could easily identify the bear, which was recorded on a store’s surveillance camera in the minutes after its first visit to Lokan’s campsite, Lemon said.
“If they saw that bear at the trap and had a clear shot at it, they might choose to do that.”