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Experts bewildered by ‘lightning strike’ surge in fatal bear attacks in Alaska

Forest trails have been closed and events cancelled in the wake of the attacks.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Sorin Colac

A RASH OF bear attacks in Alaska has left wildlife experts searching for answers.

The state is experiencing a marked increase in attacks, with four people attacked in less than a week, including two deadly encounters that came on consecutive days last weekend.

The series of incidents has led to forest trails being closed to the public and the popular Crow Pass Crossing run, scheduled for July, has already been cancelled, Alaskan media report.

The first attack took place on 18 June when 16-year-old Jack Cooper was chased by a black bear after running a race in Anchorage.

Cooper tried to phone his family to alert them that he was being chased but he could not be reached in time and he was killed by the animal.

Just a day later biological technician Erin Johnson was also mauled and killed while collecting geological samples.

Last week Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued a statement saying that they are still investigating another fatal attack which took place on Monday of last week.

In that instance two mine employees were attacked, one of them fatally. The second employee was rescued by a mine helicopter.

The bear was killed by a mine employee who returned with a rifle. According to the Department:

Early reports suggested the attack showed signs of being predatory, but biologists say further examination of events and the bear involved is needed before a definitive conclusion can be reached.

Alaska Fish and Game said bear attacks of any kind are relatively uncommon and predatory attacks on humans are extremely rare. Of 207 attacks between 1980 and 2014 in Alaska only three were categorised as fatal predatory black bear attacks.

Non-fatal attacks

The fatal attacks this month have been followed by two more non-fatal maulings.

James Fredrick and his friend Alex Ippoliti were attacked while cycling in Eagle River, Anchorage. Frederick suffered an intense mauling and he said he has  his friend to thanks for saving his life.

“I immediately just started yelling ‘help,’” he told Alaska Dispatch News from his hospital bed.

I can’t exaggerate how fast this was. I don’t think it lasted more than 7 or 8 seconds… Alex straight up saved my life, I’d be dead right now without Alex.

The fourth victim was 45-year-old Joshua Brekken who suffered minor injuries when he was charged by a bear while walking, according to the Daily News Miner.

Alaska Fish and Game biologist Dave Battle said experts are stumped by the spate of attacks. “The long and short of it is that no one knows exactly what’s going on,” he said to ABC.

Rick Sinnott, who has worked as Fish and Game wildlife biologist for 28 years, said the attacks are unprecedented.

“It hasn’t happened in Alaska, they have two black bear attacks two days apart. There’s only been six predatory black bear attacks in Alaska that I know of I think in history. So, all of the sudden to have two in the course of two days, it’s a lightning strike,” he said to local media.

Read: Teenager who was killed by bear sent text to his family while being chased >

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Ceimin Burke

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