Smoky Mountains Park euthanizes wrong bear after hiker bitten

Reuters News
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Posted: May 23, 2016 2:55 PM

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE (Reuters) - Officials at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park killed the wrong bear after a man who was hiking the Appalachian Trail was bitten in the leg earlier this month, a park spokeswoman said on Monday.

After a bear bit through the hiker's tent on May 10, park workers took saliva and fur samples to try to identify the bear that was responsible. The hiker was treated in a hospital and released.

On May 13, before results came back from the DNA testing on the samples, park service wildlife officials confronted a 400-pound (180 kg) male black bear and tranquilized it.

Wildlife biologists examined the bear and noted dental-canine injuries consistent with the hiker's wounds, said Dana Soehn, spokeswoman for the park, which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

"It was a large, dominant male bear that fit the profile of the bear we expected to be responsible for the attack," Soehn said.

The biologists decided to euthanize the bear because it was too big to be carried for six miles from the back-country to a place it could be confined while awaiting the test results, and they could not fit a tracking collar on its head, she added.

When test results came back, it was determined that the wrong animal had been killed, she said.

Park officials tranquilized another bear on Friday and released it with a GPS tracking collar while they examined its DNA, but that animal has also now been ruled out as the attacker.

Approximately 1,600 black bears live in the park, about two per square mile, but Soehn said attacks are rare.

"We have about one attack with a human that causes injury each year," she said.

(Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Andrew Hay)