Contact: Dave Schirokauer, Acting Deputy Superintendent, 907-683-9605
Contact: Patricia Owen, Wildlife Biologist, 907-683-9547
DENALI PARK, Alaska: A visitor was bitten and scratched by a grizzly bear on Friday evening, July 1 while hiking on the Savage Alpine Trail in Denali National Park and Preserve. Twenty-eight-year-old Fangyuan Zhou was hiking with friends when she encountered a small, subadult grizzly bear that bit and scratched her before fellow hikers were able to throw rocks and chase it off.
This incident occurred at approximately 7 pm on Friday evening on the west end of the Savage Alpine Trail. Zhou was hiking with two other people when she encountered the bear ¼-mile from the trailhead. Several other hiking groups were also on the four mile trail. A large group of approximately 10 people had been approached by the bear a short time before Zhou's encounter, but they were able to scare it off by grouping together, shouting, and waving their arms. This action is exactly what the park encourages hikers to do when they have a close encounter with a bear.
Zhou and her friends had earlier seen the bear on the trail and were making efforts to avoid it. They all played dead when charged by the bear. The bear scratched and bit Zhou then walked away. When it returned several minutes later, a group member threw rocks at the bear, and it ran off. While playing dead is an appropriate response when physical contact with a bear occurs or is imminent, playing dead prematurely can invoke a curiosity response from a bear. Park guidelines do not recommend playing dead prior to contact.
Initial medical care was administered by NPS staff in the area. Zhou chose to self-transport to an Anchorage hospital.
The now familiar bear has been photographed by visitors and NPS staff. It has been identified as being involved in several incidents in the Savage area during the last two weeks. Previously, the bear was reported as charging visitors on Savage area trails, and it was successful in acquiring food from a day pack after charging a hiker on the Savage Alpine Trail on June 22. Subsequently, park wildlife technicians used aversive conditioning techniques (bean bags) on the bear with the hope that it was young and impressionable enough to become wary of people. The bear had not been seen during the five-day closure last week.
Park officials have intensified efforts to manage the situation. The erratic behavior of the bear over the past two weeks: approaching and charging several groups of hikers; biting and scratching a hiker;obtaining food from a hiker; and its general interest in people represents an unacceptable risk to safety in the highly visited front country of the park. Park staff will locate and kill the bear as soon as safely possible.
The Denali Park Road and all hiking trails between Mile 13 -17 are now closed to private vehicles, bicycles, and foot traffic. Savage River Campground is limited to hard-sided RVs. Parking and restrooms remain open at Mountain Vista.
Last updated: March 29, 2017