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Yellowstone grizzly bear attack victim identified

Grizzly bear attacks are rare, and hikers are encouraged to carry pepper spray to deter attacks. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.

Wife survived by playing dead; early investigation suggests bear acted to defend her cubs but killing will be reviewed by an interagency panel

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Yellowstone National Park officials released the names of two hikers who were attacked by a grizzly bear this week, and said that an initial investigation showed that the female bear acted in a purely defensive nature to protect her cubs.

In a press release, the victim of the fatal mauling was identified as 57-year-old Brian Matayoshi, who was hiking Wednesday morning (July 6) with his wife, Marylyn, on the  Wapiti Lake Trail, which is located off the South Rim Drive, south of Canyon Village and east of the park’s Grand Loop Road.

The couple was hiking west back toward their vehicle at about 11 a.m. when they walked out of a forested area and into an open meadow where they spotted the bear about 100 yards away. The began to walk away and when they looked back, they saw the bear running down the trail at them.

The couple began running, but the bear caught up with them, attacking Mr. Matayoshi. The bear then went over to Mrs. Matayoshi, who had fallen to the ground nearby. The bear bit her daypack, lifting her from the ground and then dropping her. She remained still and the bear left the area.

Mrs. Matayoshi then walked back toward the meadow and attempted, without success, to call 911 on her cell phone. She began to shout for help and was heard by a distant group of hikers who were able to contact 911 by cell phone. Two rangers already in the area on backcountry patrol were contacted by the park communications center by radio and responded to the scene of the incident.

Mr. Matayoshi received multiple bite and clawing injuries, and was dead when rangers arrived at the scene at about 11:30 a.m.

Rangers immediately closed the hiking trails in the area. A subsequent helicopter patrol of the area failed to turn up any other hikers or backpackers. This small section of the park’s backcountry is expected to remain closed for several days.

This female bear is not tagged or collared, and does not apparently have a history of aggression or human interaction. Typically, the National Park Service does not trap, relocate, or kill a bear under those circumstances. A Board of Review which will include interagency experts will be convened to review the incident.

Bear attacks are extremely rare. No one was hurt by a bear in Yellowstone in 2010. This is the first time a human has been killed by a bear in the park since 1986.

Park visitors are encouraged to stay on designated trails, hike in groups of three or more people, and be alert for bears and make noise in blind spots. Visitors are also encouraged to consider carrying bear pepper spray, which has been shown to be highly successful in stopping aggressive behavior in bears. The Matayoshis were not carrying pepper spray.

It was the first time since 1986 that a visitor to the park has been killed by a grizzly, according to a press release from the National Park Service.

Altogether, about 28 people have been killed by bears in the past 10 years. Bearplanet.org maintains a listing of known bear attacks.

Last summer, a camper was killed by a grizzly in late July in Montana’s Gallatin National Forest. Several other campers were injured in the same incident, when a bear bit or tore through several tents.

The adult female grizzly (about 10 to 15 years old) was captured along with three yearling cubs after that attack.
A report released several weeks after the attack said biologists couldn’t completely explain the bear’s behavior. The adult female was in poor body condition and had been relying on natural food sources and was not habituated to human food sources. Read more about last year’s attack here.

Another man was killed by a grizzly in Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming last summer about seven miles east of Yellowstone and a 72-year old woman was killed earlier this summer by a black bear in British Columbia.

Bear advocates point out that attacks are very rare, and that people are 12 times more likely to die from a bee sting than from a bear attack. From the Grizzlybay.org website: “for each person killed by a black bear attack there are 13 people killed by snakes, 17 by spiders, 45 by dogs, 120 by bees, 150 by tornadoes, 374 by lightning, and 60,000 by humans.”

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