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Campsites are closed until Sunday in Ovando as wildlife agents continue to search for the grizzly bear responsible for a fatal attack on a bicycle camper early Tuesday morning.
In a news release Wednesday, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the bear initially awoke the bicycle camper — identified as Leah Davis Lokan, 65, of Chico, California — and a couple sleeping in a nearby tent around 3 a.m. Tuesday, but the animal ran away. Upon noticing the bear, Lokan and the other campers removed food from their tents, secured it, and went back to sleep.
Fifteen minutes later, the bear was captured by a video camera at a local business about a block away. At around 3:30 a.m., the two people sleeping in the nearby tent awoke to the sounds of the attack and the bear pulling Lokan from her tent. The couple sprayed the bear with bear spray, and it has not been seen since, according to the release.
In addition to the fatal attack, the bear also raided a local chicken coop.
While efforts to locate the bear have failed, Greg Lemon, spokesman for FWP, said there is a chance the bear will return to Ovando in the coming days in an attempt to raid the chicken coop again.
“At this point, our best chance for catching this bear will be culvert traps set in the area near the chicken coop where the bear killed and ate several chickens,” said Randy Arnold, FWP regional supervisor in Missoula, in the release.
Located at the intersection of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and the Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail, Ovando is a popular rural town for bicyclists to stop and camp while riding along Highway 200.
Terry Sheppard, treasurer of the Brand Bar Museum in town, said she was shocked and horrified about the incident but said it is common for wildlife to wander through the rural town with around 100 people, and people need to be careful.
“Unfortunately, it puts a black eye on Ovando … we support the bicycle riders each year, and they have been an asset to us,” she said.
Once the bear is found, it will be killed, Lemon said. The bear will be the second grizzly killed by FWP this summer for fatally injuring a human. FWP experts believe the bear was a 400-pound male. The agency will be able to compare DNA collected at the scene to ensure any bear trapped is the same animal responsible for the attack.
When FWP heard of the attack, it quickly focused its efforts on locating the bear, Lemon said.
“(The attack) is not normal bear behavior. Usually, human and bear conflicts stem from bears protecting food, female bears protecting cubs, or surprise encounters that result in the bear feeling threatened and attacking the person,” he said, adding, “Going into a campground and attacking a person is not a natural instinct.”
In its attempts to locate the bear, FWP set five traps and flew a helicopter around Ovando. The helicopter conducted three unsuccessful searches for the bear Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. The search also included the use of infrared technology, but efforts to find the bear are now focusing on traps near Ovando, a press release from FWP said.
About 1,000 grizzly bears roam the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem – one of six recovery areas designated for the bears after being added to the list of endangered species in 1975. While the bear has made a strong recovery since then, a recent review of the animal maintained its status as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
In April, a grizzly defending a winter kill fatally attacked a fisherman outside of Yellowstone National Park. Lemon said that when wildlife agents investigated the incident, the bear charged, forcing the agents to fatally shoot the bear.
Lemon said the department does not put down bears very often for conflicts involving humans, and it is more common to euthanize bears who kill livestock.
But he said, “When there is human safety involved, we don’t want to give the bear too many chances.”
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