HELENA Mont. (AP) – A grizzly bear pulled a woman out of her tent in a small Montana town in the middle of the night and killed her before fellow campers could use bear spray to drive the animal out of the area, wildlife officials said Wednesday.
Leah Davis Lokan, 65, of Chico, Calif., Was on a long-distance bike ride and was stopping in the western Montana town of Ovando when she was killed early Tuesday, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said when they provided further details to the attack.
Lokan was killed during the bear’s second visit to the location where she and two other cyclists camped near the post office, officials said.
The 150-pound grizzly woke campers for the first time around 3 a.m., officials said. They took food out of their tents, secured it and went back to sleep, they said.
A surveillance video from a shop in town showed the bear about 15 minutes later about a block from the post office, wildlife officials said.
At around 4:15 a.m., the sheriff’s office received an 911 call after two people in a tent near the victim were awakened by the sounds of the attack, Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles said. They gave their bear spray and the bear ran away.
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The bear is also said to have entered a chicken coop in town that night and killed and ate several chickens.
Officials again searched for the grizzly in a helicopter on Wednesday but were unable to find it.
“At this point, our best chance of catching this bear is in culvert traps set up near the chicken coop where the bear killed and ate several chickens,” said Randy Arnold, regional supervisor of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Missoula.
The bear will be killed if found, said Greg Lemon, a spokesman for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Investigators have obtained DNA from the bear at the site of the attack and can compare it to any animal they can catch, the agency said.
Lokan, a registered nurse who worked in a Chico hospital, had been looking forward to the Montana bike tour for months, said Mary Flowers, a friend of the victim from Chico. Lokan had taken previous long-distance cycling trips and was accompanied on them by her sister and a friend, Flowers said.
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“She loved this kind of adventure. A woman in her sixties who likes this sort of thing – she had an extraordinary passion for life, ”said Flowers.
Grizzly bears have found themselves in increasing conflict with humans in the northern Rockies for the past decade as state-protected animals expanded into new areas and the number of people living and recovering in the area grew. This has resulted in calls for elected officials in Montana and neighboring Wyoming and Idaho to lift the protection so the animals can be hunted.
Ovando, about 97 kilometers northwest of Helena, is a community of fewer than 100 people on the edge of the vast Bob Marshall wilderness.
North of Ovando lies a vast expanse of forests and mountains, including Glacier National Park, which extends into Canada and is home to an estimated 1,000 grizzlies. It is the largest concentration of Bruins in the contiguous United States
Fatal attacks are rare in the region. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, there have been three in the past 20 years, including Tuesday’s mutilation.
In 2001, a hunter was killed by a grizzly with two cubs while gutting an elk in a wildlife sanctuary west of Ovando. The three animals were shot and killed days later by wildlife officials.
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In the past 20 years there have been eight fatal human mutilations in and around Yellowstone National Park by grizzlies from a separate population of approximately 700 bears. In April, a backcountry guide was killed by a grizzly bear while fishing along the park boundary in southwest Montana.
Bears that attack humans are not always killed when the mutilation results from a surprise encounter or when the bear is defending its cubs. But the bear implicated in Lokan’s death is viewed as a public safety threat due to the circumstances of the attack, Lemon said.
Brown reported from Billings.