Yellowstone park rangers reported a gruesome discovery last week after the body of a 63-year-old hiker was discovered in the vicinity of Elephant Back Loop Trail near Lake Village. Park officials confirmed the man’s identity as Lance Crosby of Billings, Montana, a seasoned hiker. Crosby previously lived in Yellowstone and worked with several of the park’s medical clinics in the past. An examination of his body and the surrounding area suggested that he was attacked by at least one grizzly bear and was carried off to be consumed, a sign that points to the attack being predatory rather than defensive in nature.
“His body was found partially consumed and cached, or covered, and partial tracks at the scene indicate that an adult female grizzly and at least one cub-of-the-year were present and likely involved in the attack,” Yellowstone officials stated in a press release. “While the exact cause of death has not been determined, investigators have identified what appear to be defensive wounds on Crosby’s forearms. DNA evidence was recovered at the scene and will be used to help identify the bear/s involved.”
Park biologists set traps in the area after recovering the body on Friday and managed to capture one adult female grizzly. Officials say they will test the bear to see if it matches the evidence left on the scene, but will continue to trap more bears in the area if possible. Any bears involved in the attack will be euthanized.
“The decision to euthanize a bear is one that we do not take lightly. As park managers, we are constantly working to strike a balance between the preservation of park resources and the safety of our park visitors and employees,” said Dan Wenk, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. “Our decision is based on the totality of the circumstances in this unfortunate event. Yellowstone has had a grizzly bear management program since 1983. The primary goals of this program are to minimize bear-human interactions, prevent human-caused displacement of bears from prime food sources, and to decrease the risk of bear-caused human injuries.”
Bear attacks in Yellowstone are rare, but can be fatal. The Associated Press reported that since 2010, six people have died in the greater Yellowstone area as a result of a bear attack. Experts urge visitors to stay in groups, keep on trails, make a lot of noise while they move, and to carry bear spray.
Bear sows have a notorious reputation for being overly protective of their cubs. While most of these encounters are defensive—at least from the perspective of the bear—there have been reports of sows acting aggressively and engaging in predatory attacks, usually in the presence of food. The marks on Crosby’s arms suggested he fought back and tried to protect himself. Officials said the hiker was reportedly near a popular trail with dense foot traffic when he was attacked.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victim as they work to cope with the loss of someone who loved Yellowstone so very much,” Wenk said.
The area where the attack occurred has been closed off to visitors until further notice.