Environment & Science
11:32 am
Mon August 19, 2013

After 12-year-old girl was attacked, officers kill black bear

Here's how the Michigan Department of Natural Resources describes last Thursday's bear attack on 12-year-old Abby Wetherell:

Abby, who lives in Haring Township, was returning from a cabin down a two-track road when she caught sight of a bear. She began to run in hopes of reaching nearby homes. The bear attacked and clawed her. Abby was able to get to her feet and ran again. The bear caught up with her and attacked a second time. She shouted for help and a neighbor heard her and ran to her aid calling her name. This startled the bear and the bear ran off.

Wetherell suffered deep cuts on her thigh and underwent surgery at Munson Medical Center. She's now recovering at home.

Two days later, MDNR conservation officers shot and killed a bear two miles away from where the attack occurred. Here's how that happened according to Zane McMillan of MLive:

Authorities were called around 11:30 p.m. Saturday by the Selma Township homeowner, who said he shot and wounded the bear on his property.

The man shot "because he perceived the bear to be a threat to his life," the DNR said in a news release.

Conservation Officers Sam Koscinski and Holly Pennoni tracked the bear, and killed it around 2:45 a.m., the DNR said.

They don't know whether the bear they killed was the same bear that attacked Wetherell.

They should have that answer in a few days after doing some tests.

An attack like this is unusual. Black bears are typically afraid of humans. The MDNR says attacks usually involve mother bears protecting cubs, but that there was "no evidence that cubs were present where this incident occurred."

But as bears move south in Michigan, humans and bears are more likely to mix.

The MDNR is trying to get a better handle on where bears are in Michigan and how they move. In early 2012, Michigan Radio's Rebecca Williams spoke with MDNR bear specialist Adam Bump:

He said a lot of the time, the bears are young males that get pushed out during the breeding season. They’ll head down looking for new territory ... Bump said some female bears appear to be moving south too. And some might be setting up camp... and having babies.

“We think we have an established population now as far down as Grand Rapids, possibly into Ionia County. We're getting more and more reports of bears in southern Michigan, even bears that are too young to have moved, so they had to have been produced in southern Michigan.”

But he said they don’t know exactly where those established populations might be.

Bears have even been spotted as far south as Washtenaw County. They want to track more bears with radio collars. Here's how they do that:

The MDNR has these tips for people to avoid conflicts:

  • To avoid surprising bears, travel in small groups and make noise.
  • If you encounter a bear, stand your ground and then slowly back away. Do not turn away. Do not show fear and run. Do not play dead.
  • Make yourself look bigger and talk to the bear in a stern voice.
  • Fight back if actually attacked with a backpack, stick, or bare hands.
  • Carry pepper spray, which has been shown to be effective in fending off bear attacks.
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