A lone backpacker was killed by a grizzly bear Friday afternoon in Alaska's Denali National Park and Reserve, but not before photographing the animal for at least eight minutes from what appears to have been a dangerously close distance.
It marks the only known fatal attack by a grizzly in the park's history.
Park officials issued a news release confirming the incident Saturday, as they endeavored to secure the site, recover the body and search for a "predatory" bear. They also ordered a temporary closure of a large area surrounding the attack site, a portion of the Upper Toklat River.
The identity of the victim was not released pending notification of next of kin.
A search for the victim was launched after three hikers found an abandoned backpack, and later discovered torn clothing and blood. The hikers notified National Park Service staff after hurrying back to a nearby rest area.
A dusk search aboard airplane and helicopter revealed the victim's remains, with at least one bear still present. The bear fled as the helicopter landed and two rangers disembarked to inspect what appeared to be a secluded "cache" site away from where the initial attack occurred.
Rangers discovered a wallet and camera. Photographs from as close as 50 yards show the bear grazing for an extended period, not acting aggressively. The park requires that visitors maintain a distance of a quarter-mile when bears are visible.It's the first fatal attack involving a grizzly in Alaska in seven years.
Because more bears probably were in the vicinity, park officials decided to postpone the recovery of the body until Saturday.
Park officials were scrambling Saturday to make sure there were no other hikers or backpackers in the area, which they say provides habitat for about 12 grizzly bears, and were hoping to find out just what triggered the attack.
Backpackers in Denali receive mandatory 'Bear Aware' training prior to receiving a backcountry permit. They also receive a 30-minute safety video, a safety briefing from the ranger staff, and a mandate to carry a Bear Resistant Food Container.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that this marked the first fatal grizzly bear mauling in Alaska since 2005, when a grizzly killed an Anchorage couple camping in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That was deemed an unprovoked attack and the bear subsequently was hunted and killed.
-- Image shows a portion of the Upper Toklat River, which is near where the attack occurred. Courtesy of Danali National Park and Reserve