Black bear killed man whose body was found by Hazel Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Rangers shot and killed bear eating body at campsite 82

(This story has been updated)

A black bear killed a man whose body was found by backpackers at a Hazel Creek campsite in September 2020.

Patrick Madura died “due to trauma caused by a bear,” according to a news release from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

He would be only the second park visitor known to be killed in a bear attack in the 80-year history of the national park.

Glenda Bradley was killed in a predatory bear attack on the Little River trail in 2000. Two bears were shot and killed by park rangers after a Boy Scout troop came upon the incident. The animals, a sow and yearling, were eating and attempting to cache Bradley’s body when they were killed. 

Madura’s body was found by backpackers arriving at campsite 82 on Sept. 11, 2020. They first noticed an empty tent, then saw a bear “scavenging” the victim’s body across the creek. 

Rangers responding to the subsequent emergency call found a bear eating Madura’s body and shot and killed the animal. Hazel Creek Trail and the campsite were temporarily closed following the incident.

Madura, 43, of Elgin, Illinois was hiking and camping alone when he was attacked, according to the park service. No additional information about food storage issues or what may have precipitated the attack was immediately available from the park service.

Madura was an accomplished outdoorsman with a masters in biology and was trained as an EMT and firefighter, according to local reporting from the Chicago area following his death last year.  

Fatal attacks are extremely rare, given the number of visitors to the national park, the most visited in the country. Nonfatal attacks, while still rare, are more common. A bear attacked a teenager as she slept in a hammock near the Maddron Bald trail in the Cosby area earlier this year; she was airlifted from the park with serious injuries but was expected to make a full recovery. The bear involved in that attack was euthanized as well.

Rangers urge visitors to be Bearwise, but regularly encounter improper interactions between bears and visitors, such as an incident this summer in which a woman was cited for feeding a bear peanut butter  from a vehicle in Cades Cove.

“Bears are an iconic symbol in the Smokies, but they are also dangerous wild animals, and their behavior is sometimes unpredictable” Bill Stiver, the Smokies supervisory wildlife biologist, said in the release. “There are inherent risks associated with hiking and camping in bear country. Black bears are the largest predator in the park, and although rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting serious injury and death.”

Here’s the full release from the national park:

(This story was updated).

The North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner recently released a final report confirming that Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitor Patrick Madura died last summer likely due to trauma caused by a bear. 

On Sept. 11, 2020, backpackers initially found an unoccupied tent at campsite 82, a backcountry campsite in the park’s Hazel Creek Area. They later discovered what appeared to be human remains across the creek with a bear scavenging in the area and reported the incident to authorities. Upon arriving at campsite 82, park law enforcement rangers and wildlife officers observed a bear actively scavenging on the remains and promptly euthanized the bear. Hazel Creek Trail and campsite 82 were closed in response to the incident and have since reopened.  

This incident is the second bear-related fatality in the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  

The park takes active measures in the backcountry to prevent human-bear conflicts, including: 

— Providing aerial storage cables for backpackers to hang their gear and food. 

— Educating visitors on how to respond if a bear is encountered on the trail or in a campsite.

— Closing backcountry campsites when bear activity is reportedly high in a given area. 

Hikers are reminded to take necessary precautions while in bear country, including hiking in groups of three or more, carrying bear spray, complying with all backcountry closures, properly following food storage regulations, and remaining at a safe viewing distance from bears at all times. 

If attacked by a black bear, rangers strongly recommend fighting back with any object available. Remember that the bear may view you as prey. In this circumstance, people should attempt to look large and not run or turn away from the bear. 

For more information on what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, please visit the park website.

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