Mine workers watch brown bear kill another

Posted: Friday, July 21, 2006

SITKA - About 20 workers at the Greens Creek mine witnessed a juvenile brown bear get attacked, killed and partially eaten by a slightly larger bear.

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A company official said the kill came after a 30-minute chase Tuesday afternoon through the heart of Greens Creek mining operations 20 miles south of Juneau on northern Admiralty Island.

Bill Oelklaus, environmental manager for the Greens Creek Mining Co., said the bears made two passes through a work area adjacent to the underground mine before the larger bear caught up with the juvenile and quickly killed it.

Oelklaus said the bears ran between a scattering of light-industrial buildings, vehicles and an office building, occasionally passing within a few feet of mine workers.

"Neither bear seemed to notice that there was anyone there," he said.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game area wildlife biologist Phil Mooney said young bears that are establishing a territory of their own are often killed by larger bears over territory, which he suspects was the situation Tuesday.

Mooney said he found Tuesday's incident interesting in that it happened in the middle of the day in front of a group of people.

Oelklaus said Greens Creek operates in a 60-acre clear-cut on Admiralty Island, where it mines zinc, silver and lead. The mine itself is on one side of Greens Creek, and supplementary buildings are about 650 feet away, across the creek. The company has a camp for mine workers at a separate location eight and a half miles away on Hawk Inlet.

Oelklaus said he suspects the juvenile bear had come to the Greens Creek facility to seek protection among the buildings, people and "activity" on site. The bear chasing it was not too much larger, he said.

At first, Oelklaus said, the juvenile bear passed through the area at a trot, with the larger bear still far behind. As the larger bear got closer, the juvenile broke out into an all-out run, before ultimately being caught and killed in a brief fight.

"It was a pretty gruesome example of survival of the fittest around a group of people," he said.

Oelklaus said the larger bear fed on the smaller bear for a few minutes, then left the carcass at the Greens Creek facilities and walked about 100 yards down to the creek, where it rested near the water for about an hour.

Oelklaus said workers knew the larger bear would be back, and they quickly used a front-end loader to lift the dead bear into a flatbed truck to get it out of the work area.

At around 4 p.m. the larger bear returned and the mine workers let it investigate the kill site for 5 to 10 minutes before shooting it with rubber bullets. It ran off into the woods and Oelklaus, who related the incident 24 hours later, said it hasn't been seen since.

After the bear left, workers cleaned the kill site with a chlorine solution and sprayed down the bucket of their front-end loader. The carcass of the juvenile bear was taken to the Greens Creek camp on Hawk Inlet. The head and paws were removed and sent to Juneau Wednesday to be aged and undergo further analysis.

Mooney said he was impressed with how the Greens Creek crew handled the whole situation so the larger bear didn't have to be killed.

The juvenile bear was a female, while the sex of the larger bear was not identified.

Oelklaus said Greens Creek workers are on the lookout because they expect the larger bear will be back soon.

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