July 8, 2011 / 9:16 AM / 8 years ago

Grizzly mom free in Yellowstone after fatal attack

A grizzly bear and her two cubs in the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

CODY, Wyo (Reuters) - A female grizzly bear that attacked and killed a hiker who inadvertently surprised the animal with its cubs in Yellowstone National Park is being allowed to roam free for the time being.

Yellowstone rangers believe they know which grizzly was involved in the fatal mauling of a man who encountered the bears while walking the Wapiti Lake trail on Wednesday morning with his wife, park spokeswoman Linda Miller said.

But Miller said on Thursday that park authorities, at least for the moment, were not out looking for the mother grizzly, which appeared to have behaved naturally in defending her young against a perceived threat when suddenly confronted by humans.

Park officials say bears that become aggressive toward people and pose a continuing threat to human safety are captured and either removed from the park or destroyed.

The bear linked to Wednesday’s incident is not believed to have a history as a nuisance animal or to have had previous contacts with park visitors.

The fatal attack occurred about a mile and a half from the start of the Wapiti Lake trail, and another group of hikers nearby called park rangers for assistance when they heard the victim’s wife crying for help. The victim’s identity and hometown have not been publicly released.

Attacks by bears are extremely rare. No visitors were injured by bears in Yellowstone last year, and Wednesday’s mauling marked the first human death caused by a bear in the park since 1986, the National Park Service said.

But a mother grizzly killed a man and injured two other people in an unusual night-time attack on sleeping campers just outside Yellowstone in Montana last July. The bear involved in that incident was later trapped and destroyed because the attacks were considered to be unprovoked and predatory.

Yellowstone officials scheduled a news conference later on Thursday to discuss the latest incident, and were expected to reveal further details about the attack and the bear involved.

Reporting by Ruffin Prevost; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston

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