Alaska News

‘Bear spray quite possibly saved his life': 71-year-old man survives brown bear attack in Kodiak

A 71-year-old man survived a brown bear mauling on a Kodiak trail Sunday, officials said.

Donald Zimmerman called for help around 11:35 a.m. and said he’d been mauled by a bear on Pillar Mountain, troopers wrote in an online statement.

Zimmerman had been jogging along the trail when he was attacked from behind, said Nathan Svoboda, a wildlife biologist in Kodiak for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Zimmerman had seen the bear from the corner of his eye before the attack but didn’t have time to use his bear spray, Svoboda said.

The bear mauled Zimmerman and then returned, but Svoboda said Zimmerman was ready with the bear spray. He aimed it at the charging bear, sprayed it and “that scared the bear off for good,” Svoboda said.

“His bear spray quite possibly saved his life,” Svoboda said.

First responders found Zimmerman about a half-mile from the road on a trail, troopers said. Zimmerman was in stable condition following the attack and troopers said he was brought to Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center for treatment.

Wildlife troopers searched the area with officials from the Department of Fish and Game and saw several bears, although Svoboda said it’s impossible to determine which bear may have mauled Zimmerman.


It’s unclear what prompted the attack, but Svoboda said it may have been a defensive sow protecting cubs or Zimmerman may have surprised the bear. Zimmerman believed he may have seen another bear during the attack, Svoboda said. The area where Zimmerman was attacked was rich with berries that Svoboda said the bears may have been foraging for.

During defensive brown bear attacks, Svoboda advised people to play dead.

“What brown bears are trying to do typically in these defensive attacks is neutralize a threat,” Svoboda said. “Whether they think you’re threatening their cubs or threatening their food source or threatening them in some way or another, they’re trying to neutralize the threat. ... That’s why we tell people when you’re attacked to play dead, because then the bear thinks that the threat is no longer there and the bear will move on.”

There haven’t been other maulings on Kodiak recently, Svoboda said.

A man was fatally mauled last week near Hope by what officials believe was a brown bear.

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Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at