Investigators have concluded that a hiker found dead on Friday in Yellowstone National Park was attacked by a grizzly bear, and park officials are working to trap and kill any bear determined to be involved in the incident.
An exact cause of death has yet to be determined, but a preliminary investigation found what appear to be defensive wounds on the victim’s forearms.
Park officials have yet to release the name of the hiker, a Montana man, pending notification of relatives. According to a statement released by the park’s public affairs office, the man was a long-term seasonal employee of Medcor, the company that operates three urgent care clinics in the park. He had worked and lived in Yellowstone for five seasons and was an experienced hiker.
He was reported missing on Friday morning when he did not report for work. A park ranger found his body in a popular off-trail area he was known to frequent, less than a mile from the Elephant Back Loop Trail, near the Lake area. Investigators believe he may have died sometime Thursday.
Based on partial tracks found at the scene of the incident, investigators believe that an adult female grizzly and at least one cub-of-the-year were present and likely involved in the incident.
The victim’s body was found partially consumed and cached, or covered, park officials said. Such behavior is not typical of most bear attacks.
Wildlife biologists set bear traps in the area on Friday evening. If bears are trapped and identified as having been involved in the attack, they will be euthanized.
“We may not be able to conclusively determine the circumstances of this bear attack, but we will not risk public safety,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk. “We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victim as they work to cope with the loss of someone who loved Yellowstone so very much.”
Park rangers and wildlife biologists worked at the scene to gather evidence for bear DNA recovery. The investigation will continue, although heavy rains in the area Friday evening and Saturday morning have made additional evidence recovery difficult. A forensic autopsy is scheduled for Monday.
The Elephant Back Loop Trail and immediate area is closed until further notice. Signs are posted and maps of the closure area are available at park visitor centers.
All of Yellowstone National Park is considered bear country. Hikers are advised to stay on designated trails, travel in groups of three or more people, carry bear spray, be alert for bears, and make noise to help avoid surprise encounters.