Bear-safety lecture in Yellowstone interrupted by bear

CODY, Wyo Mon Jul 11, 2011 6:09pm EDT

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CODY, Wyo (Reuters) - Just two days after a rare fatal mauling by a mother grizzly in Yellowstone National Park, a black bear interrupted the taping of a television news segment on bear safety.

The odd close encounter on Friday featured a group of kayakers assisting a hiker in her effort to avoid the bear, and was captured on video by a visiting cable news crew.

Park officials said on Monday that the bear seen in the footage appeared to be minding its own business and posed no immediate threat to the hiker.

In the fatal bear attack on Wednesday, Yellowstone's first since 1986, an adult female grizzly with two cubs charged after and killed a park visitor who was believed to have inadvertently startled the animal while hiking with his wife.

That incident resulted from the grizzly acting to defend her young against a perceived threat, park officials said last week. The bear involved was allowed to roam free afterward, but its whereabouts are being monitored for the time being.

On Friday, a CNN news crew was working at a different location with Yellowstone bear biologist Kerry Gunther and park spokesman Dan Hottle. They were taping a bear-safety story when they spotted hiker Erin Prophet and a nearby black bear.

As prophet backed away from the bear, she found herself at the edge of a lake where the bear was headed. Dave Beecham, one of three people in a nearby kayak, paddled over to help Prophet swim away from the bear.

Although the bear never charged and did not appear to be directly threatening her, Prophet told the camera crew that she was scared, and glad for the help.

"When the guys in the kayak offered to pull me across, that seemed like a better plan because the bear seemed like it wanted to be down there by the edge," Prophet said.

Beecham, visiting the park from Oregon, had his son and father-in-law in the kayak during the incident. He later told KGW news of Portland that he felt compelled to help, but he was also "afraid the grizzly bear was going to come after us."

Hottle said the black bear, initially misidentified as a juvenile grizzly, appeared disinterested in Prophet and was just trying to get to the water.

"That was what we refer to as an incident within an incident," Hottle told Reuters on Monday, joking that he worried some might think the encounter was staged.

Hottle had taken the news crew to Joffe Lake, a five-minute drive from park headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming.

As Gunther was about to demonstrate how to use a concentrated pepper spray designed to deter bears, someone nearby sounded the alarm about the bear, Hottle said.

He said he doubted the incident would have raised eyebrows were it not for the presence of news cameras in the wake of an exceptionally rare fatal mauling two days earlier.

Yellowstone spokeswoman Linda Miller said the park has received hundreds of media inquiries about the fatal attack.

Sales of bear spray were up sharply at a camping supply store in Cody, Wyoming, near the park's East Entrance.

"People are definitely talking about it when they come in," said Amber Bryant of Sunlight Sports. "Some people have actually changed their minds and decided not to go hiking at all." She added that most customers have decided to proceed with their backcountry plans.

Gunther told reporters last week that the fatal bear attack was a "1-in-3-million" chance encounter, and that bear-related injuries in the park normally average just one each year.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)

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