YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — A man hiking with his wife on a Yellowstone National Park trail was mauled to death by a bear on Wednesday, the National Park Service said, noting it was the first such fatality in 25 years.
The couple was about a mile and a half into the Wapiti Lake Trail when they came across a grizzly sow with cubs.
"In an apparent attempt to defend a perceived threat to her cubs, the bear attacked and fatally wounded the man," the park service said in a statement. "Another group of hikers nearby heard the victim’s wife crying out for help, and used a cell phone to call 911. Park rangers were summoned and quickly responded to the scene."
"Patrols are underway to clear the area of all backcountry users," it added. "All trails and backcountry campsites in the area have been closed until further notice."
The 57-year-old victim's name was withheld pending notification of family members.
"Our heart goes out to the family and friends of the victim as they work to cope with their loss," said Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk.
No Yellowstone visitors were injured by bears in 2010, the park service noted. "This is the first bear-caused human fatality in Yellowstone since 1986," it added.
A mother grizzly did kill one man and injure two other people in an unusual night-time attack on sleeping campers just outside Yellowstone in Montana last July. That bear was trapped and destroyed because the attacks were considered to be unprovoked.
Park spokesman Al Nash said park officials have not euthanized or tried to find the bear.
In June 2010, a grizzly just released after being trapped and tranquilized for study killed an Illinois man hiking outside Yellowstone's east gate.
Yellowstone and nearby surrounding areas are home to a growing number of grizzlies, at least 600 and some say more than 1,000. Once a rare sight, they've become an almost routine cause of tourists lining up at Yellowstone's roadsides at the height of summer season.
Their growing numbers require constant vigilance by tourists and park workers alike, said Caleb Platt, a service station manager at Canyon Village.
Platt lives most of the year in Yellowstone and said over the last eight years he has had three fairly close run-ins with grizzlies while hiking.
"When it's close and you realize it does see you, it gets the heart racing," he said.
Platt said he carries bear spray — pressurized hot-pepper oil in a can — so he's able to defend himself in case a bear gets too close on the trail.
I personally can't imagine anything worse than being killed by an animal....shark, bear, whatever. I can't imagine the pure terror that runs through you while something like this is happening. My thoughts and prayers go out to this man's family, especially his wife who had to stand by and watch helplessly as her husband was killed right before her eyes. That is a scene that will probably be burned into her mind forever.