Team Investigating Fatal Bear Attack at Yellowstone National Park Releases Report

A report by an interagency investigation team into a fatal bear attack this past July in Yellowstone National Park has been released.

The report reviews the events surrounding the July 6, 2011, incident which occurred along the Wapiti Lake Trail near Canyon Village. The attack by a sow grizzly resulted
in the death of 58-year-old Brian Matayoshi from Torrance, California.

Such investigations are always a difficult task due to the emotions involved, especially those of the family and friends of the victim. A key purpose of such investigations is to see if there are any lessons learned that can help prevent similar incidents in the future. To that end, it may be helpful for other visitors to "bear country" to note some of the report's conclusions.

According to the report, "Mr. and Mrs. Matayoshi encountered a female grizzly with 2 cubs at a distance estimated at 100 yards…but [this distance] is impossible to substantiate. The Matayoshi's turned around when they saw the grizzly. Soon after they turned they began to run away from the bear along the trail through the timber. They were yelling and screaming as they ran away from the bear."

The report notes, "What possibly began as an attempt by the bear to assess the Matayoshi's activities became a sustained pursuit of them as they fled running and yelling on the trail. In addition to the unfortunate circumstance of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, a possible contributing factor to the chase that ensued was that the victims ran from the bear while screaming and yelling."

Investigators note that while the adult grizzly attacked Mr. Matayoshi when it caught up with him, Mrs. Matayoshi escaped injury. She had attempted to hide behind a downed tree about five yards beyond her husband. When she made eye contact with the bear and then looked down, the bear "came over to her as she lay prone on her stomach, picked her by her backpack, and then dropped her."

The two cubs did not participate in the attack, and all three bears left the area rapidly after the chase and brief encounter with the two hikers.

We've summarized this report in hopes that others might benefit from this unfortunate incident. Perhaps the key point is reinforcement of long-standing advice from Yellowstone. The park's advice for "Minimizing the Dangers of a Bear Encounter" includes some key tips:

If you encounter a bear, do not run. Bears can run over 30 miles per hour, or 44 feet per second, faster than Olympic sprinters. Running may elicit an attack from otherwise non-aggressive bears. If the bear is unaware of you, detour away from the bear. If the bear is aware of you and nearby, but has not acted aggressively, slowly back away.

If a bear makes physical contact, drop to the ground, lie face down, and clasp your hands behind your neck. It may take all the courage you have, but lie still and remain silent. Resistance will only provoke the bear. Before moving, listen and look around carefully to make sure the bear is no longer nearby.

The investigation team report is available online at this link.

The complete National Park Service case incident report and an audio recording of the 911 call made by nearby hikers who heard the attack has also been released. They can be found at this link. (Scroll to the bottom of that webpage for the links, and be aware that these are both rather large files.)

Comments

Was Matayoshi killed by a habituated roadside bear featured as an entertainer in Yellowstone bear jams?
The report shows that park visitors on the road in Hayden Valley saw Matayoshi.
Matayoshi was only 5-7 miles from the spot where a Michigan hiker in Hayden Valley was killed a few weeks later. Same bear?
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team has spent more than two months in YNP this year trapping and drugging bears in the backcountry; why not save money and dart/drug bears right along the road? The NPS bear jam squad could help with traffic control. Nobody would get killed--which was botanist Erwin Evert's fate when he came upon an unmarked trap site in the backcountry on the Shoshone National Forest just outside the East Entrance of YNP in 2010.

Dave, I'm guessing that you've never been involved in darting a bear. That's not something you'd want to do with a bunch of people milling around. It can be very, very tricky. Sometimes a well placed dart brings results almost immediately. But frequently, it takes considerable time for the dart's contents to take effect. When that happens, the bear's reaction is completely unpredictable and could result in mass casualties among spectators.

It would probably be a much better idea to dart the people instead.