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A grizzly bear and her two cubs in the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, June 24, 2011. Grizzly bears are most often found in the open spaces of the park. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

 

On Wednesday, a man hiking through Yellowstone National Park was mauled and killed after a surprise encounter with a grizzly bear. The attacking bear was said to be protecting her nearby cubs.

The identity of the 57-year-old victim was being withheld until his family could be notified, said Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash.

Nash added that the couple saw the bear twice on their hike. At first, they continued walking. When they saw the grizzly again, it charged them, and the man told his wife to run.

According to the woman, she didn't see the bear attack her husband and when the bear went for her, she dropped to the ground.  Then, the grizzly lifted her up by her daypack and eventually dropped her. She did not seek medical attention and escaped with minor scratches.

The incident occurred a mile and-a-half into the Wapiti Lake trail, one of the access points to the Pelican Valley area, which is known for major bear activity. In response to Wednesday's attack, park officials have closed the Wapiti Lake trail and posted a bear warning sign at the trailhead.

Officials also closed remote campgrounds and other trails nearby the scene of Wednesday's attack near Canyon Village, which sits in the middle of the sprawling park.

The attack came just one week after Yellowstone's peak weekend for tourism. While officials did not want to downplay the event, they sought to reassure visitors.

This is a wild and natural park, said Diane Shober, director of the state Wyoming Travel and Tourism agency. At the same time, the likelihood of this happening again is small.

Yellowstone is home to between 600 and 1000 grizzles who can stand six feet tall and top 600 pounds.

Wednesday's incident was Yellowstone's first fatal grizzly mauling since 1986, but the third in the Yellowstone region in just over a year amid ever-growing numbers of grizzlies and tourists roaming the same wild landscape of scalding-hot geysers and sweeping mountain vistas.

In June 2010, a grizzly just released after being tranquilized for study killed an Illinois man hiking outside Yellowstone's east gate. Last July, a grizzly killed a Michigan man and injured two others in a rare nighttime campground rampage near Cooke City, Mont., northeast of the park.

In general, attacks by bears are extremely rare and not one bear had been reported along the Wapiti Lake trail this year.

Officials advised park visitors to stay on designated trails, hike in groups of three or more people, and to be alert for bears and make noise in blind spots.

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