Residents demand death for killer bear

Posted: Wednesday, February 11, 1998

SOLDOTNA - Fish and Game officials have been swamped with calls from residents near Sterling demanding that a bear involved in a fatal Sunday mauling be killed.

The callers say they fear the bear will now prey on humans and some are afraid to send their children to the school bus stop. Some asked why biologists didn't track the bear and kill it.

Fish and Game biologists, however, don't think the bear poses a future threat, spokesman Bruce Bartley said.

Everything about the mauling suggested it was a quick defensive maneuver on the part of an irritated bear that was awakened. It did not appear to be the act of an animal that was crazed or seeking food, Bartley said.

In short, the big bear probably felt cornered and did what brown bears do - lashed out.

What makes the incident so unusual is that it occurred in mid-February, when bears are supposed to be asleep.

``As far as I know, this is the only time it's ever happened, ever, that's been recorded,'' Bartley said.

Six people were laying seismic line for Northern Geophysical of America on Sunday afternoon when they walked past the bear's den. The grizzly popped out and charged Audelio Luis Cortes, 40. Cortes was bitten in the head and died almost immediately.

``This guy could have had 10 bazookas strapped to him and he wouldn't have gotten a shot off,'' Bartley said.

The bear ran from the chaos of shouting and hovering helicopters after the attack, and it kept on running, Bartley said.

Three weeks of snowless weather combined with a myriad of moose tracks made tracking the animal difficult, Bartley said. But biologists slowly followed the path about four miles, until they were well outside the area where Northern Geophysical crews were working.

``In all likelihood he'll find a place to den up and sleep through the rest of the winter,'' Bartley said.

Based on its 9-inch-wide footprints, the bear probably was an adult male that could have weighed about 700 pounds.

``That's a big bear anywhere and a real big bear on the Kenai,'' Bartley said.

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