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May 19, 2024

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Park Announces Cause of Death in 2020 Hazel Creek Fatality

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.

“Bears are an iconic symbol in the Smokies, but they are also dangerous wild animals, and their behavior is sometimes unpredictable” said Bill Stiver, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist. “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.”

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, and

· 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 at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/black-bears.htm

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