Wildlife officials await test results to confirm captured bears attacked campers
COOKE CITY, Mont. – Wildlife officials expected DNA test results to confirm Friday that a captured grizzly bear and her three cubs were the animals that killed one camper and injured two others in a rampage that has set tourists in this Yellowstone National Park gateway community on edge.
Fibers from a tent or sleeping bag were in the captured bears' droppings, and a tooth fragment found in a tent appears to match a chipped tooth on the 300- to 400-pound sow. But officials say they will decide the bears' fate only after the test results are in.
"Everything points to it being the offending bear, but we are not going to do anything until we have DNA samples," said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim.
On Thursday, a day after the maulings at a crowded campsite, many in Cooke City carried bear spray, a a pepper-based deterrent more commonly seen in Yellowstone's backcountry than on the Cooke City streets.
Those who live in the small tourist town tucked in the picturesque Absaroka Mountains said during a community meeting Thursday night that they were jarred by the nature of the attack. But they also expressed concern about the fate of the cubs.
Officials have said the sow will be killed if DNA evidence confirms that it attacked the victims early Wednesday at the Soda Butte Campground, five miles from the entrance to Yellowstone. State and federal wildlife officials will decide what happens to the cubs, which are feared to have learned predatory behavior from their mother.
Two cubs were captured Thursday. But a third remained at large and officials said it could not be allowed to stay in the wild. The cub could be heard nearby through much of the day Thursday, calling out to its mother and eliciting heavy groans from the sow, which was captured first and then left in its trap to attract the offspring.
Montana wildlife officials identified the man killed as Kevin Kammer, 48, of Grand Rapids, Mich. The bear pulled Kammer out his tent and dragged him 25 feet to where his body was found, Aasheim said.
Messages left Thursday for Kammer's mother-in-law and brother-in-law in Michigan were not returned Thursday.
The two other victims, Deb Freele of London, Ontario, and Ronald Singer, of Alamosa, Colo., were hospitalized in Cody, Wyo. Singer was treated and released, and Freele was scheduled to have surgery Friday for bite wounds and a broken bone in her arm, said West Park Hospital spokesman Joel Hunt.
Singer, 21, and his mother, Luron Singer, did not immediately return e-mail messages from the AP. But Luron Singer told The Denver Post that her son, a former high school wrestler, had been camping with his girlfriend.
When he felt the bear biting his leg, he started punching the animal, she said. His girlfriend screamed, and the bear ran away.
"He is doing fine," Luron Singer told the Post. "He went fishing today."
Freele said she couldn't understand why the bear attacked her, because she posed no threat.
"If it was something that I had done — if I had walked into a female with cubs, and startled her, and she attacked me — I can understand that," she said. "She was hunting us, with the intention of killing us and eating us."
All the victims did the right thing, and there was no telling why the bear picked out those three tents, Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Capt. Sam Sheppard said.
"She basically targeted the three people and went after them," he said.
Evidence at the campground suggested the three cubs were present and likely participated at least in the fatal attack.
In 2008 at the same campground, a grizzly bear bit and injured a man sleeping in a tent. A young adult female grizzly was captured in a trap four days later and taken to a bear research center in Washington state.
Cooke City resident Cliff Browne, 70, said living in proximity to grizzlies is part of life and he didn't expect to change his routines because of the attacks.
"You can't live in fear," he said. "It's not going to change my going out hiking."
About 600 grizzly bears and hundreds of less-aggressive black bears live in the Yellowstone area. The grizzlies are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Associated Press Writer Ben Neary contributed to this report from Cheyenne, Wyo.