Hiker injured by grizzly bear in Denali National Park

Bruin charged, ran past the couple, turned and attacked again, then grabbed the woman by the ankle before husband chased it away

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2005

ANCHORAGE - A hiker was injured by a grizzly bear that charged through heavy brush and grabbed the woman by her right ankle, dragging her off a large rock before her husband scared it off.

Joanne Saunders, 52, of Poquoson, Va., and her 54-year-old husband, James, were hiking in Denali National Park and Preserve when they encountered the adult bear, park spokeswoman Kris Fister said Tuesday.

The couple was hiking in an off-trail area on the west side of the Savage River about 1 1/2 miles downstream of the park road when the attack occurred Monday.

They had hiked partway up a slope along a ridge and were heading back down a different way when they found themselves in heavy brush, Fister said. They climbed on to a large rock for a better view in hopes of finding an easier way down when they heard the bear.

"They were in very dense brush," Fister said. "That's when they heard the bear coming."

The bear, snorting as it ran, charged past them but then stopped about 20 to 30 feet away, turned and ran back. When the bear got to the rock, it grabbed Joanne Saunders' right ankle in its mouth and pulled her off the rock and to the ground. At that point, her husband jumped off the rock to help his wife, who was on the ground in a fetal position.

When Saunders shouted at the bear, it looked up and ran off. The entire attack took just a few seconds, Fister said.

Given that the couple was in an off-trail area and in heavy brush, it's possible the bear attacked because it was startled, Fister said.

"Right now, as far as we know the animal didn't do anything wrong," she said. "It left off the attack pretty quickly."

The Saunderses reported the incident to rangers. Joanne Saunders was taken by ambulance to see a physician's assistant in nearby Healy for injuries to her right ankle, bruising on her left side and a broken nose. She was taken to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for additional treatment and released Monday night. Her husband was treated for an ankle sprain.

Two rangers and a wildlife technician were unsuccessful in locating the bear Monday night. They did encounter two bears in the same area, but they weren't aggressive.

If the bear that attacked Joanne Saunders can be located and it is determined it is behaving aggressively, aversive conditioning methods such as rubber bullets could be used to drive it from the area.

Park managers have temporarily closed the area. It likely will remain closed for several days while rangers assess the situation, Fister said. Warning notices also have been posted to prevent people and cars from entering the area.

Last year, there were at least two bear incidents in the park, including one where a visitor received scrapes and scratches after an encounter with a sow with cubs. Before that, the last incident was in 1997 and also involved a sow with cubs, Fister said.

The couple reported seeing only the single bear in Monday's encounter. A sow and cubs, however, have been spotted in the area.

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