Two campers were attacked in their tent by a bear early Saturday along the shoreline of Skilak Lake, an official from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge said.
Officials don’t know yet why the bear attacked or what kind of bear was involved, said Leah Eskelin, a public information officer for the wildlife refuge.
“It was a short, quick, in-your-tent attack,” she said.
The two people were camping in a dispersed area near the mouth of Hidden Creek, Eskelin said. There were no other campers in that immediate area Saturday morning, she said.
The campers had been sleeping when the bear attacked their tent around midnight, said wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The campers had bear deterrents, including a bear horn and spray, but didn’t have time to use them, Selinger said.
“There’s no indication that they did anything to prompt the attack or did anything wrong,” he said. “It’s one of those where you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The campers described the attack as quick and intense, Selinger said. Once it stopped and things quieted down, the two quickly loaded some of their gear into kayaks and set out to the Upper Skilak Lake Campground boat launch, he said. The campers were well prepared with first aid supplies, Selinger said.
Cell service is spotty around Skilak Lake, Selinger said, and it’s unlikely that there was service where the two campers were attacked. Selinger said the kayak trip took about an hour and a half to two hours.
At the campground boat launch, other people administered first aid and called for help using a satellite phone, according to a statement from the wildlife refuge. One of the campers was airlifted to a nearby hospital and the other was taken by ambulance, Selinger said.
Officials did not provide details about how severely the campers were hurt.
“We’re grateful that they got the care that they needed right away and that everyone really came together at the campground to provide that aid and give them a quick response time,” Eskelin said.
Biologists from the state Department of Fish and Game visited the scene Saturday with federal wildlife officers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Eskelin said.
There were no bears in the area when officials visited the scene, but they collected a collapsed tent and other camping gear, Eskelin said.
“ADF&G is working on seeing if they can pull any DNA material off of that, like hair, because they want to see if they can find out what kind of species it is and that might help determine why the bear acted the way it did,” she said.
Selinger said DNA is often found on clothing of bear attack victims, also, but the evidence is sometimes lost during the chaotic aftermath of an attack. Biologists can determine the sex and species from the DNA, which Selinger said can help them determine which bear was involved and track if the same animal causes conflicts in the future.
Selinger said the ground near the campsite is made up mostly of rock and gravel, which makes it difficult to find animal tracks or other clues that would normally help fill in details about what happened during an attack.
Hidden Creek Trail, which is a nearly 3-mile loop trail that leads to Skilak Lake, was closed Saturday after the attack, Eskelin said. The trail reopened Sunday but Eskelin said there are signs posted to warn people to use caution.
“It’s one of those scenarios where if you close an area and have no activity on it, you stand to make it only a wildlife area,” she said. “So the trail is reopened and it’s signed with clear information that the area was involved in a bear incident and some safety information.”
Selinger said it would be wise to avoid the area because the bear could still be around. Officials are still investigating but Selinger said anyone recreating in the area should use caution and carry safety supplies like bear deterrent and first aid supplies.
“The big thing is being prepared as well as these folks were. You could get attacked in the Fred Meyer parking lot — you’re always in bear country here,” Selinger said. “Always have some medical equipment, maybe compression bandages and things you may not think of. And whenever you’re going out, just be prepared in case something does happen — have a plan of how to get back to safety or how to contact somebody.”