The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said Friday that a man who medical staffers suspected was mauled by a bear in South Anchorage on Wednesday night was actually attacked by a moose — they think.
The man, who has not been identified, remained in critical condition Friday, police said. Neither police nor wildlife biologists have been able to speak with him. Without a witness, they were left trying to solve the mystery of what happened to him based on his wounds and evidence left in a wooded, bloody stretch of land next to a long, unpaved, private drive.
Over two days, the suspected cause of the man's injuries evolved from a knife attack to a bear mauling to a moose stomping. On Thursday morning, while a bear mauling was the current theory, Fish and Game biologists killed a black bear in the area, describing it as a public safety concern.
The episode started with a 911 call Wednesday and a report of a possible stabbing.
The 911 caller was driving on the gravel road running through Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area, the city's newest park, to a home on five acres at the park's eastern edge. The driver called a 911 dispatcher shortly after 9 p.m. and said that an injured man was lying on the ground with multiple wounds. The victim was "bleeding heavily," said Jennifer Castro, Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman. The driver told the dispatcher the man was unresponsive and may have been cut with a knife, Castro said.
"At that point in time, we do a search and an investigation," Castro said. "We find various pools of blood throughout the woods. Take photos." It appeared the man had crawled or rolled to the drive where police found a large pool of blood, she said. The private drive is off Selkirk Drive, a short street lined by homes that ends at the estuary park.
An ambulance brought the man to the hospital, where medical staffers said his injuries likely came from a bear — not a knife. The man had injuries to his chest, throat and head, Castro said. On Thursday, she said the man had injuries primarily to the front of his body and did not appear to have any of the defensive wounds that might indicate a man protecting himself against a knife-wielder. She said police found markings in the dirt that "looked like he had been dragged by something large."
On Thursday morning, Fish and Game biologists went to South Anchorage to investigate the possible bear mauling. The drive where the man was found winds through thick brush and trees, partly within the Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area. The park borders the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge where it's not uncommon to see bears and moose.
The drive is marked by "No Trespassing" signs. A gate blocks passage at the north edge of the park near the estuary trailhead.
Castro said the drive is roughly a quarter-mile long. A path off a Campbell Creek estuary trail leads toward the middle of it. Ken Marsh, a spokesman in Anchorage for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the pools of blood were found in the woods across the drive. He said biologists did not know what the man was doing in the wooded area. Neither do the police, Castro said.
Marsh said a group of biologists had driven partly down the private drive Thursday and were investigating the scene when a man in the home at the end of the road told them he saw a black bear around 10 a.m. The man said the bear appeared fearless and he backed into the house to get away from it.
Less than 30 minutes later, biologists spotted a black bear about 100 yards from where the injured man was found the night before, off the private drive. The bear stood on its hind legs and put its paws against a tree, Dave Battle, a Fish and Game biologist, said Thursday.
The bear was killed with a single shot from a 12-gauge shotgun. Both Marsh and Battle said Thursday that they were not sure the bear was connected to the man's injuries. But because of the reports that a man was hospitalized over a suspected bear mauling and the bear appearing to be unafraid, the animal was a public safety concern, Marsh said. They had no choice but to put it down, he said.
But by Friday afternoon, biologists had reviewed the injured man's wounds and determined that they were consistent with a moose attack, not a bear mauling. Marsh declined to say Friday why the wounds appeared to be caused by a moose.
"I don't know where the mistakes were made other than it's quite possible, if not likely, that medical staff has not encountered a lot of wildlife injuries," Marsh said Friday.
Marsh said biologists also saw moose tracks near where the man was found. Biologists spoke with police who said they had spotted a yearling moose Wednesday evening near where the injured man was found and took photographs of it. Officers said the moose appeared agitated, according to a statement from Fish and Game on Friday.
"Biologists returned to their investigation at the attack scene where observations of tracks and hair suggested the injuries were likely caused by a moose," the Fish and Game statement said. "No evidence indicating the presence of a bear was found at the scene."
Marsh said Friday the biologists acted properly in shooting the bear. In addition to the circumstances of location and the belief that the victim's injuries were caused by a bear, the bear they encountered was "showing no fear," Marsh said.
"It's unfortunate any time that we have to kill wildlife in a situation like this. It's not anything our biologists like to do. It's not why they took the job," Marsh said. "It's an unfortunate set of coincidences."
Marsh said he saw a moose with two calves in the area Thursday, but not the yearling spotted the night of the suspected attack. He said biologists would likely not look for the yearling unless they received additional reports of encounters.
Wednesday's suspected moose attack comes less than two weeks after a moose stomped on two women repeatedly in an area of Kincaid Park. One woman went to the hospital with a punctured lung and broken wrist. The other woman suffered a cracked rib and a deep cut on her buttocks.
Marsh warned that if a moose flattens its ears and starts to approach, the best defense is to run and put something like a tree between you and the animal.
"When those hooves start flying, they can be deadly," he said.