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DNA confirmation still pending for euthanized bear following attack

Rangers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park hope a bear they caught and killed last week is the same one that attacked a teenager who was sleeping in a hammock.

“We took it very seriously and we didn’t take any chances,” said Dana Soehn, spokesperson for the park. “Nobody should have that fear when they are hiking that they are going to have an unprovoked bear attack.”

Visitor safety was the number one concern driving the park to put down the bear suspected of the attack, Soehn said.

But it could be next week before DNA tests come back to confirm a positive identity. A match will be made based on bear hairs taken from the scene of the attack.

“There was a definite point of struggle and there was enough left behind at the scene to collect hair,” Soehn said.

Rangers had covertly staked out the backcountry campsite where the attack happened hoping the bear would come back. Bears generally keep to a given territory, and routinely return to the same places in their wanderings. 

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When a bear walked into the campsite three days later and moseyed around the area where the teenager’s hammock had been hanging, rangers suspected it was probably the same one. It was tranquilized and then euthanized.

Rangers remained posted in the area in case the bear they killed wasn’t the right one — and to see if another bear showed up at the campsite. The general Hazel Creek area of the Smokies in Swain County — part of a vast and remote wilderness area — remains closed until further notice.

New details have come out about the bear’s behavior during the attack. The boy was asleep in his hammock when he awoke to a bear biting him on the head, pulling him from his hammock, and dragging him off.

The boy’s eyes were not injured in the attack, but he was left with several gouges on his face and head. He was treated at Mission Hospital, but returned to his home state of Ohio for follow-up care.

The bear was extremely difficult to drive away, according to park officials. The teenager’s father, who awoke to sounds of his son screaming, had to beat the bear repeatedly to get it to let go.

“The boy’s father saved his life, clearly,” Soehn said.

The bear then continued to circle the campsite, based on the father’s account to park rangers.

Park officials and bear behavior experts continue to emphasize how rare an unprovoked bear attack is. Bear injuries usually involve a bear trying to get human food or a protective reaction to being startled or feeling threatened.

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