By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - A hiker found dead and partially eaten at Yellowstone National Park suffered injuries consistent with an attack by a grizzly bear or bears, according to preliminary results from an autopsy, a park spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
Lance Crosby, 63, suffered wounds to his forearms and his body had been covered with vegetation in a sign that a bear or bears planned to return later to recover it, said spokeswoman Amy Bartlett.
Tracks nearby showed a mother grizzly and two cubs were likely involved in the mauling, she said.
Crosby, a registered nurse, was reported missing on Friday after failing to show up for work at a company that runs urgent care clinics in Yellowstone.
A park ranger found his body later that day in a popular backcountry area near Yellowstone Lake.
A grizzly sow and her two months-old cubs have since been captured in traps at the site.
Bartlett said U.S. government bear managers are waiting for DNA test results to confirm if the mother bear was the culprit before killing her.
A zoo is being sought for the cubs, she said. If none is found, they may also be put down because they are too young to survive in the wild without their mother, Bartlett said.
Wildlife advocates have bombarded park officials with phone calls and emails protesting the plan to euthanize the sow and possibly the cubs.
Bartlett said it is common for government wildlife managers to destroy grizzlies and black bears if they make what is considered to be a predatory, rather than defensive, attack.
"The problem is, she didn't just attack or bite and then leave. She attacked, then engaged in significant consumption and cached the body with the intent of returning to feed," Bartlett said. "Those actions go way beyond a defensive attack."
Crosby, of Billings, Montana, was an experienced hiker. No bear spray or pack were found with his body.
He had been in his fifth season of working for Medcor, which operates three medical centers in Yellowstone, the company said in a statement.
The park, which straddles Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, cautions its millions of visitors each year to carry bear spray, hike in groups of three or more, and to stay on designated trails. More than 700 federally protected grizzlies are estimated to roam Yellowstone and parts of neighboring states.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Doina Chiacu)