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Denali rangers plan to kill grizzly that bit and scratched visitor

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: July 2, 2016
  • Published July 2, 2016

A grizzly bear charged, bit and scratched at a woman Friday in Denali National Park, prompting rangers to close nearby hiking trails while they locate and kill the animal.

The small grizzly has become notorious in Denali in recent weeks, chasing hikers and charging vehicles in the Savage River area, according to Dave Schirokauer, the park's acting deputy superintendent.

"It's been acting kind of erratically," Schirokauer said.

On June 22, the grizzly charged hikers on the Savage Alpine Trail and consumed two candy bars and bottles of soda from a daypack thrown as a distraction by one of the hikers. Park officials worried the bear would start associating humans with food.

Last week, rangers closed Savage-area trails and parking lots as wildlife technicians used shotguns to fire bean bags at the bear, hoping to make it wary of people again, according to a Saturday release from the park.

No one saw the bear for five days and the trails were reopened at noon Friday, in line with park policy, Schirokauer said.

That's the day 28-year-old Fangyuan Zhou went hiking with her friends on the 4-mile Savage Alpine Trail, according to the release.

Before she spotted the bear, it approached another group of about 10 hikers, who scared it by grouping together, waving their arms and shouting.

FILE — A grizzly cub walks down the road in Denali National Park in May. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

"This action is exactly what the park encourages hikers to do when they have a close encounter with a bear," the release said.

Around 7 p.m. Friday, the same bear charged Zhou and her friends about a quarter-mile from the trailhead. They all played dead. The bear bit and scratched at Zhou and then walked away. When the bear returned minutes later, the group threw rocks at it and it ran away.

Schirokauer said Zhou had minor injuries and was able to walk on her own. She received medical care from park staff and chose to drive herself to an Anchorage hospital for further care.

Officials have closed the Denali Park Road between Mile 13 and Mile 17 to private vehicles and bicyclists, as well as all hiking trails in the area. Only people with hard-sided RVs can use the Savage River Campground, officials said.

"Park staff will locate and kill the bear as soon as safely possible," the release said.

Schirokauer said he wants to remind people not to immediately play dead when they see a grizzly. Instead, he said, people should stand their ground, make noise and try to scare it off.

"The appropriate advice is to not play dead until either physical contact occurred or contact is really imminent," he said. "If I had a bear charging at me, I would not play dead until it was about one second from touching me. Most charges are bluffs."

More than 300 bears roam Denali National Park and many are familiar with people hiking on trails, Schirokauer said.

"If someone plays dead, they're like, 'Oh, that's weird. I wonder what's up with that, I'm going to go see,' " he said.

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