Here are a few thoughts about the hiker that was killed by a grizzly on the Toklat River on August 24: First, it is inaccurate to call the deceased a "photographer." He was a HIKER with a camera. That does not make him a "photographer." If owning a device that takes pictures makes a person a photographer, then every single visitor to the park then qualifies for the label. Serious photographers should be cautious about using this label.
He was using a Canon Rebel T3i, with 55-250mm lens, said the park information officer. The Chief Ranger believes that based on the types and quality of his photos, he was a backpacker with a camera, not a serious photographer. The first images of the unsuspecting bear were taken from a distance of about 75 yards, according to the Chief Ranger, the last images were at about 60 yards, the bear now aware of, and looking at, the hiker. The images will not be released by the Park Service as the images are private property and the Park does not have the right to release them. What is dismaying is that much of the information concerning the photos comes from a bogus photo album that appeared on ABC's Good Morning America in the days following the attack. The bears in that photo album were stock images with no relationship whatsoever to the incident.
Next, here is possibly a little insight into the bear that killed the hiker from a former ranger:
"We saw a large male bear kill and eat a cub on the last stream coming off Highway Pass into Grant Creek on the 20th. He was the largest bear I've ever seen on the north side of the range in the park. When he attacked the cub, he ran full out for about 300 yards, hit the cub before the female was even aware he was there. On the 21st, he was staying around the same area, then we saw him head down towards the Toklat. From the description of the bear they killed at the hiker's body, we think it was the same bear we watched."
Recently, three large bears have been caught and weighed on the Toklat River. There is a salmon run downstream at the Toklat Springs, outside the old park boundary. These bears are unusually large because of fish as a food source. Bears normally are not that large inside the park. We do not know if the salmon run failed or not this year, but most of the Yukon-Tanana drainages were substandard runs.
The Park Service does not believe, however, that the bear that attacked the hiker is one and the same with the bear that killed the cub because the bear that was shot at the scene was NOT injured and bore no sign of wounds. Apparently the bear that killed the cubs, they say, was wounded by the attacking sow when she tried to protect her cub and had sustained noticeable, visible wounds. Private individuals dispute that assertion but I lean toward the park's analysis.
In addition, it is quite unusual to see large, male bears near the park road. Almost all the "usual suspects" that hang near the road and buses are juveniles or females with cubs, groups that tend to tolerate human activity better than mature males.
Next, my ex-ranger friend said he saw "abundant berries." I, and local berry picking fanatics, disagree, finding blueberries very scarce. Hunger may be one likely trigger for this attack.
I am sorry a bear was killed but I have great sympathy for the victim's family and 21-month-old daughter. The hiker was not an "idiot" or "fool" any more than all the other dozens of people who have done the same thing this summer without incident, or the hundreds over the years. Not long ago, for example, a female hiker had a bear actually sniff her boot and then walk away...her experienced companions having run off and leaving her alone!
I hope the park staff would take some comfort for the great bear awareness program developed here and the parks long safety record. Denali was key to developing bear-proof-food-containers that have become standard for wilderness users and saved dozens of lives of people and bears. Education and monitoring has greatly reduced negative bear/human encounters.
If some on the park staff have erred, it is in trying to tie this thing up in a neat, understandable package with clear reasons. We do NOT know, and will never know, what happened between the time the hiker stopped taking pictures and the time when the actual attack occurred. We can NOT explain human aberrant behavior, why then should we be able to explain anomalies like this event? I call this a sad tragedy and accident, and for me, that is all that is necessary