When Greg Alexander saw a black bear dragging his 16-year-old son off a hammock, he reacted the only way he knew how: by climbing on the bear and using its face as a punching bag.
Officials say Alexander and his son Gabriel were camping in the backcountry of Great Smokey Mountain National Park on Saturday when the bear rolled into their campsite. The bear immediately went after the teen and seemed intent on dragging him away, at least until his father intervened.
“I just had to get the bear off of him. I think I kicked the bear a couple times and it didn’t seem to have any effect, so I just jumped on him and started punching it in the face,” Alexander told WSOC TV.
That seemed to do the trick and the bear backed off. Alexander continued to drive it away by throwing rocks at the animal, and then helped his son hike five miles back to the lakeshore where other campers had assembled. There, a few friendly backpackers gave the pair a ride across the lake on their boat and the teen was eventually airlifted to a local hospital.
“The young man received multiple injuries including lacerations to the head. He remained conscious throughout the incident and is in stable condition at this time,” park officials stated in a press release.
Several trails and backcountry campsites were closed down after the incident and the park was put on bear alert as rangers combed the forest looking for the bear that had attacked the campers. WLOS reported that rangers eventually found the animal lingering near the Alexanders’ abandoned campsite, likely trying to get into the food they left behind. The bear was behaving unusually and started moving aggressively towards the rangers, at which point it was put down.
“We acted swiftly and reduced this threat to our backpackers and hikers in the area,” said Ranger Dana Soehn, who added that this was the second bear the park had to euthanize this year.
Samples from the bear will be tested for DNA to confirm whether it is the animal that attacked the Alexanders. Officials have not said if there were any reasons why the animal confronted the campers, but it is possible that the bear was foraging for food. Alexander and his son had relatively little gear on them and their food was properly stored on aerial storage cables to keep it out of reach.
“While incidents with bears are rare, we ask park visitors to take necessary precautions while hiking in bear country and comply with all backcountry closures,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “The safety of our visitors is our number one priority.”
Gabriel Alexander is now reported to be in good condition and is expected to return home this week.
Image courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife