DNA test IDs grizzly in mauling of jogger

LAB RESULTS: Authorities have no doubt which bear was responsible.

October 23, 2008 

A DNA test has confirmed that Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials in August killed the bear that mauled a 51-year-old jogger over the summer in an Anchorage park.

Eleven days after Clivia Feliz was attacked, biologists made a decision to shoot a sow grizzly with two cubs feeding on a moose kill in the yard of a Stuckagain Heights home.

Based on a description provided by Feliz and photographs taken by remote cameras along the Rover's Run Trail in Far North Bicenntennial Park, the biologists believed they had a solid identification of the bear that attacked the jogger.

It was on Rover's Run Aug. 8 that Feliz and her dog were at first chased by a pair of young grizzlies and then she was attacked by their mother. Prior to that incident, other runners and mountain bikers had also reported being chased by a sow with two cubs.

Distinctive markings on one of those cubs led to a strong belief that the bear biologists shot on a moose kill more than a week later was the unusually aggressive sow, but officials didn't get a positive confirmation of the bear's identity until this week.

Saliva and hair taken from the bear matched the bear saliva on Feliz's shirt, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Sandra Talbot, a research geneticist and director of the Molecular Ecology Laboratory for the USGS here, said she believes this might be the first time DNA has been used to identify a bear involved in a mauling.

The lab reported it took longer than usual to match the samples because the mother of the dead sow also roams Bicenntennial Park. The DNA from mother and daughter is similar, and scientists wanted to make sure they identified the right bear.

Talbot estimated the chances they got the wrong bear are less than one in 10 million.

The bear that attacked Feliz bit her in the head and neck. One of her lungs collapsed, and she had to be hospitalized, but she is now recovering.

After that sow was killed, its two cubs were successfully captured. They were temporarily housed at the Alaska Zoo, but have since moved to a new home at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Yet unknown is the identity of another bear that attacked 15-year-old mountain biker Petra Davis on June 29. That bear nearly killed her. The young cyclist spent days in the hospital and weeks recuperating but, like Feliz, is now on her way to a full recovery.

DNA taken from bite holes in Davis's helmet was so distinctly different from the DNA taken from the dead sow of Aug. 8 that scientists knew almost immediately that bear was not involved in the first of the two attacks in the sprawling Anchorage park.

Efforts have continued to try to match that bear that attacked Davis to any of more than two-dozen other bears that gave up DNA samples to hair traps in the area during a three-year study of Fort Richardson bears. A ground-breaking study by Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists Sean Farley documented heavy grizzly use of the Campbell Creek drainage despite its proximity to Alaska's largest city.

State and city officials are now wrestling with the thorny issue of how to manage bear use there as Anchorage continues to grow and recreation activities increasingly expand into surrounding areas.

Since the sow grizzly was shot in mid-August, regular bear sightings have continued around Anchorage, but there have been no other major problems. Some bears are now heading toward dens in the mountains to hibernate and most should be asleep for the winter by the end of November, but until then, biologists say people should continue to remain on the alert when recreating around the edge of the city.

Find Craig Medred online at adn.com/contact/cmedred or call 257-4588. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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