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One person dead, two injured in bear attack at Mont. campground

Thursday, July 29, 2010

COOKE CITY, Mont. -- At least one bear rampaged through a heavily occupied campground Wednesday near Yellowstone National Park in the middle of the night, killing one person and injuring two others during an attack that forced people to hide in their cars as an animal tore through tents.

Authorities said three separate attacks left a man dead and a woman and another man injured at the Soda Butte campground. The woman suffered severe lacerations and crushed bones from bites on her arms, and the surviving male was bitten on his calf.

Wildlife officials did not release the names or ages of the victims.

Don and Paige Wilhelm of Aledo, Texas, were spending the night in the campsite next to the woman.

"We heard a scream about 2," Don Wilhelm said. "We weren't sure what it was. We thought maybe teenagers yelling."

Paige Wilhelm added: "We heard a lady in the tent next door say 'no.' I said, 'Don, there's a bear,' and started hearing this snuffling. We heard her say, 'A bear has attacked me.'"

The couple waited until they could no longer hear the animal breathing before running for their car. Don Wilhelm later helped bandage the woman's wounds.

Both survivors were hospitalized in Cody, Wyo.

The victims were in three different tents, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Capt. Sam Sheppard. Two of the tents were close to each other. The man who was killed was alone in a tent about a quarter-mile away in the heavily occupied campground that has 27 sites for tents and recreational vehicles, he said.

Campers throughout the site had their food in storage boxes, Sheppard said.

"They were doing things right," Sheppard said. "It was random. I have no idea why this bear picked these three tents out of all the tents there."

Wildlife officials were inspecting the campground to determine what happened.

"We don't know if it was one bear, two bears, a black bear or grizzly bear," Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim said. "Obviously, the bear's gone now. Will it come back tonight? That's the question."

Authorities set five baited traps and were collecting bear hair, saliva and droppings while measuring the bite wounds of victims to determine the type and number of bears involved.

If they trap a bear involved, it will be killed, Sheppard said.

Park County dispatchers took a 911 call early Wednesday from a male reporting that a bear had bitten his ankle and was tearing up tents, Aasheim said. Dispatchers got two more calls, including one from a man who said a bear bit the leg of his daughter's boyfriend.

At 3:50 a.m., park officials went through the campground to advise campers to get into their cars. A half-hour later, the dead male was discovered at a campsite. Authorities evacuated the campground, sending campers to nearby hotels.

It was not immediately clear how many people were in the campground at the time.

The same campground was the site of a 2008 attack in which a grizzly bear bit and injured a man sleeping in a tent. A young adult female grizzly was captured in a trap four days later and transported to a bear research center at Washington State University in Pullman.

The 10-acre Soda Butte campground is in Gallatin National Forest, some five miles from the northeastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. It is just off the mountainous Beartooth Highway about 125 miles southwest of Billings.

"It is a populated area for bears, not just grizzly bears but black bears," Gallatin National Forest spokeswoman Marna Daley said.

The campground, which is run by the U.S. Forest Service, has been closed, as well as two other nearby campgrounds, Daley said. Forest Service officials will consider closing more campgrounds after consulting with state wildlife officials leading the investigation, she said.


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