Bear attacks are rare, but weigh heavily on the imagination. Unfortunately, this worst-case nightmare was a reality for a sixteen-year-old marathon runner named Patrick Cooper, who was chased and mauled to death by a black bear recently.
Cooper was running in the Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb, a popular race that follows Bird Ridge, a run in Chugach State Park, which is about half an hour from downtown Anchorage. Cooper, an Anchorage resident, was at the 1.5 mile mark when he noticed a black bear chasing him.
He texted a family member about what was happening. Brad Precosky, the race’s director, sent people up a nearby hill to try to spot Cooper. By the time they found him, it was too late.
A search party was sent out to help him, and tracked his cell phone signal. They found him about 500 yards off the trail, dead. The bear was still nearby. A park ranger shot and wounded the bear, but it escaped.
Yesteray, a posse of park rangers, biologists from Fish and Game and a volunteer who brought his Karelian bear dog, scoured the area around the kill site to try to find the bear. They were unsuccessful, but plan to continue their search until they can find the bear and dispatch it.
Bears are not uncommon in Chugach State Park, but attacks are. The last recorded mauling in the Anchorage area occurred in 1995.
The attack is also unusual in that the culprit was a black, not a brown, bear. Black bears are much less likely to attack a human than a brown bear. But unlike browns, who usually cease their attack once they feel the person they’re attacking is no longer a threat to them or their cubs, black bears attack to kill and eat.
If you plan to be in bear country, it is of paramount importance that you carry bear spray. Bear spray is a special kind of pepper spray that is hyper-potent and comes in a large-volume can with a powerful dispersal mechanism. It has been shown to be more effective than firearms in deterring bear attacks and is far less risky to the user.
Bear attacks, as stated before, are very rare. They do, however, happen often enough that knowing bear safety protocol in detail is mandatory for anyone who will be around them.
As black bears proliferate in urban areas, it will become more and more important for public awareness of how to safely cohabitate with them to elevate.