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Necropsy confirms black bear killed man near Delta Junction

Casey Grove

A black bear that was shot and killed at the scene of a fatal mauling in Interior Alaska last week was the bear responsible for the attack, Alaska State Troopers said Tuesday.

An Alaska Wildlife Trooper shot the older male bear while troopers were investigating the death of Fairbanks resident Robert Weaver on Thursday. An examination of the bear's stomach contents found remains of Weaver, and a review of his wife's frantic 911 call confirmed it was the bear she saw attack him, troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said.

Weaver's wife called 911 on a cellphone about 6:45 p.m. Thursday, telling dispatchers a bear pounced on Weaver, 64, troopers said. The couple had seen the bear as they motored up to a dock in front of their cabin on Lake George, southeast of Delta Junction, said trooper Lt. Lantz Dahlke.

"The information we have is they yelled at it, and the bear moved away and went over to some brush, and it was watching them from the brush," Dahlke said.

The couple started walking toward their cabin, Dahlke said.

"It attacked him. Then the victim told his wife to run to the cabin, so she ran to the cabin," he said.

Weaver's wife grabbed a gun from inside the cabin, but the gun jammed when she tried to fire it, Dahlke said. A family member said the woman also tried to throw things at the bear.

"The bear obviously was not scared of her at all. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to help her husband any more than she could," Dahlke said.

She had no choice but to retreat to the cabin and block the door, the trooper lieutenant said. The woman waited until military rescuers arrived in a helicopter about 9 p.m., troopers said. A wildlife trooper and good samaritans came by airboat, a troopers spokeswoman said.

As the wildlife trooper investigated, the black bear returned, Dahlke said. Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters described the bear's behavior as "sneaking" up on them.

"The way the bear approached the troopers, they felt there was an imminent attack, so they killed it," Dahlke said.

But it was not immediately clear if the trooper had shot the bear responsible for Weaver's death. The troopers flew Weaver's body to Anchorage and drove the bear's body to Fairbanks, both for examinations.

A necropsy showed the bear to be a healthy, if old, male black bear, said Cathie Harms, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks. It was about 230 pounds and, though its exact age is still unknown, appeared to be between 10 and 20 years old, based on its teeth, Harms said. It could prove to be older, she said.

The bear had a normal amount of fat on it, meaning it was not starving, Harms said. Initial tests have shown it also did not have any diseases or viruses, including rabies, she said.

"We saw nothing that would indicate any gross abnormalities," Harms said.

Weaver's remains were found in the bear's stomach, said Ipsen, the troopers spokeswoman.

It was a recording of the 911 call that definitively linked the bear to the attack, Ipsen said. Troopers had to rely on the recording, because they had not learned the type of bear in the mauling from their quick initial interview with Weaver's wife, Ipsen said.

"She was going through a lot, so it was pretty brief," Ipsen said. "Based on the information we had, we didn't feel the need to re-interview her and put her through any more trauma than what she's already been through."

There were no other bears spotted in the area and the bear was a male, so there were no cubs it might have been defending, Dahlke said. It also did not appear to be protecting cached food, such as a moose carcass, Ipsen said.

So far, there has been no explanation for why the bear attacked.

"As for why this happened, I don't think anybody really knows," Ipsen said.

Given how many people venture into Alaska's wilderness, Harms said, it is extremely uncommon for a bear to attack a person. Deaths from such attacks are even rarer still, she said.

There have only been four other fatal black bear maulings in about the last half-century, Harms said. Documented cases include an attack in the 1950s, one in the '60s, one in 1980 and another in 1992, she said.

Just because the black bears are typically smaller than grizzly bears does not make them less of a threat, Harms said.

"I think a lot of people have arrived at a conclusion that black bears are not dangerous and grizzly bears are. And I think that's an unfortunate conclusion that's not true," Harms said. "I think people need to be careful about many different kinds of wildlife -- bears, moose, wolves. A lot of species can be very dangerous."

 

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

 

 


By CASEY GROVE
casey.grove@adn.com