Officials of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are now checking into the possibility that a 3rd bear may have been involved in an attack whcih killed a Cosby, Tenn., woman on Sunday. This is reportedly the first-ever fatality in the Smokies from a black bear attack.
Rangers shot an adult female and yearling cub that were found hovering over the lifeless body of Glenda Bradley. Park spokesman Bob Miller says rangers now are looking into reports that a third bear was seen in the area. The bear is described as smaller than the female that was shot.
Meantime, Miller says a preliminary exam of the two killed bears confirms they preyed on the victim. Whether they mauled her to death is unknown. But Miller says the bears were clearly aggressive to hikers who tried to help, and would have needed to be put down anyway.
The attack occurred approximately two miles up the Little River Trail from trailhead in Elkmont after 50-year old Glenda Bradley separated from her companion when he went fishing in the river.
The man told park officials he returned about an hour later and discovered Ms. Bradely's body off the trail. According to the Park Service, two bears -- ane adult female weighing 112 pounds, and a 40-pound yearling -- were at the body.
Bob Miller, a spokesman for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, says rangers had tagged the bear in 1998 and had placed an orphaned cub with her. Miller says the animal wasn't known as a "problem
Quoted in the Knoxville News Sentinel, park wildlife biologist Kim DeLozier said, "We know black bears have preyed on other species in the park, like white-tailed deer," DeLozier said. "Given our black-bear density and number of visitors, there's always been the potential for this. Maybe that's something people have underestimated in the past."
DeLozier said 37 fatal black-bear attacks have been recorded in the United States. He said Sunday's fatality was only the second fatal black-bear attack in a national park. The other occurred in Yellowstone.
Estimates put the park's black-bear population at about 1,800, more than triple the 300 to 500 animals that were estimated to exist when the park began monitoring its bears 30 years ago.
DeLozier said the adult female's small size (112 pounds as opposed to the typical female weight of 125 to 150 pounds) reflects the usual food shortage at this time of the year but does not indicate she was starved. He also said the adult shouldn't have been overly protective of her cub since it was a yearling and almost old enough to be independent.
Michael Pelton, who led UT's black-bear research project in the Smokies park for over 30 years, learned of the fatal attack Sunday night at his Virginia farmhouse, where he has lived since his recent retirement.
"It sounds like a predatory response on the part of the animal," Pelton said. "I have to think the bear had an instinctive reaction when the person started running or somehow responding as prey.
"What makes this so rare is that it's a black bear. Their level of aggression isn't nearly what you find in brown (or grizzly) bears or polar bears."
Joe Clark of the U.S. Geological Survey Southern Appalachian Field Lab and lead researcher of an ongoing attempt to reintroduce black bears to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, said the fact that the fatal attack occurred in the Southeast and not out West makes it especially shocking.
"You hear about these things in other parts of the country, but it's a different deal when it comes home to roost," Clark said. "These are normally secretive critters, but you take an estimated 1,800 bears in a park that gets 10 million visitors, and that's obviously a lot of bear interactions."
The last serious bear attack in the park occurred in 1989 when a black bear mauled a visitor in the Chimneys Picnic Area. That same year the park recorded a total of 17 bear incidents, the highest on record. DeLozier said most occurred in areas of high use and that with the exception of the Chimneys attack, the injuries involved were minor.
He said the park on average has to kill one nuisance bear a year; last year the park killed three. He said so far this year there have been few reports of nuisance bear activity.
The park attracts more visitors than any national park in the country. DeLozier said the park will stick to the bear-management policy it implemented a decade ago stressing proper food storage by park users and increased monitoring of nuisance bears.
Four backcountry campsites in the general area of the attack -- sites 21, 23, 24 and 30 -- will be closed pending confirmation of the cause of Bradley's death.
"This attack was very bizarre and rare, but in my estimation it's as safe now to hike in the park as it ever was," DeLozier said.
Les Kirk, a Chattanooga trout fisherman and owner of Choo Choo Fly and Tackle frequents the mountains regularly. Kirk said, "one person a year on the average gets killed by a black bear in the United States. So it's a very uncommon occurance when you consider that 160 people are killed (every year) just by bees, wasps and hornets."