By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, Wyo (Reuters) - A female grizzly that attacked and killed a man who inadvertently surprised the bear and its cubs while hiking in Yellowstone National Park is being allowed to roam free for now, park officials said on Thursday.
The initial investigation of Wednesday's fatal bear mauling, the first in Yellowstone since 1986, suggests the mother grizzly "acted in a purely defensive nature to protect her cubs," the National Park Service said in a statement.
The bear involved is not tagged or collared and apparently lacks a history of aggression toward people or interaction with humans, the agency said.
The decision not to capture or kill the animal was announced as additional details of the attack were made public by the Park Service.
The victim, Brian Matayoshi, 57, of Torrance, California, near Los Angeles, was hiking with his wife, Marylyn, on the Wapiti Lake Trail when they encountered the family of bruins as the couple emerged from a forested area into an open meadow.
The hikers first spotted a bear about 100 yards away and began walking in the other direction, but when they turned to look back they saw the female grizzly charging at them down the trail, according to an account issued by park officials.
The couple began running, but the bear caught up to them and attacked the husband, then approached the wife, who had fallen to the ground nearby.
"The bear bit her daypack, lifting her from the ground and then dropping her," the park statement said, but the woman remained still and the grizzly lumbered off.
WOMAN SHOUTED FOR HELP
The woman then walked back toward the meadow, and began shouting for help, attracting the attention of a distant group of hikers who managed to call for assistance by cell phone.
Two park rangers arrived on the scene within about 30 minutes, but the man was dead from his wounds, which included multiple bite and clawing injuries.
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.
But the bear linked to Wednesday's incident is not believed to have had any previous contact with park visitors.
The fatal attack occurred about a mile and a half from the start of the Wapiti Lake Trail, off South Rim Drive, south of Canyon Village and east of the park's Grand Loop Road. The couple were on their way back to their parked car when the mauling occurred.
Attacks by bears are extremely rare. No visitors were injured by bears in Yellowstone during all of 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.
Hiking trails in the vicinity of Wednesday's incident will remain closed for several days, the park said. A special review board consisting of interagency experts will be convened to review the incident.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)