SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Mercy killing fells blind brown bear


September 29, 2006

A Kodiak brown bear that likely fell off a cliff and hit her head was killed by wildlife officials after she was found blind, wandering in circles and bumping into trees outside the city of Kodiak, Alaska.



Four ATV riders along Salonie Creek, about five miles from downtown Kodiak, spotted the slow-moving bear roaming in dizzying circles this week, Alaska State Troopers said.

"He had no snapping jaws. Nothing. He was incoherent of anything going on around him," said trooper Aaron Frenzel, who responded to a call by the ATV riders.

Frenzel walked up to the bear and stood still, he said. "Then it walked right up to me, and nudged right into me," he said. The bear then retreated, crashing into brush and debris along the creek bank.

Frenzel shot the bear once with a 12-gauge shotgun.

"It was an act of mercy, the bear was obviously suffering," said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson.

This bear, Frenzel estimated, was a small, 2-year-old female. It had no scratches or puncture wounds or shaved spots to indicate another bear swatted it, or that it suffered a gunshot wound.

A Kodiak driver hit a bear about a week ago on nearby Chiniak Highway, but Frenzel said the blind bear had no signs of getting hit by a vehicle.

More likely, Frenzel said, the bear lost her footing somewhere in the nearby valley rife with loose rock faces and cliffs.

While very rare, it is not unheard of for a bear to take a tumble, biologists say.

"There have been documented incidences where bears have died from falling off cliffs," said John Hechtel, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game, who had not yet heard about the case when reached Wednesday. "It's not like they are immune to that, but I don't think it's been documented a lot."

"It sounds kind of odd," he said. "But, with wildlife, there are always sort of strange things that turn up periodically."

Hechtel said he recommends a necropsy to investigate the incident further.

Kodiak bear biologist Larry VanDaele, who was not in Kodiak and had not yet looked at the bear, said a severe blow to the head would account for the bear's behavior. "It is similar to a bird that hits a window and gets a bruise, not only on its head, but also on its brain. If there is also internal bleeding the pressure on the brain will cause blindness, disorientation and ultimately death," he said in an e-mail.


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