Officials say they killed the bear responsible for the attack Friday morning as it approached a trap set by Fish, Wildlife & Parks. They are waiting for DNA confirmation that it was the same bear before reopening campsites in the area.
A 65-year-old woman from Chico, California, was pulled from her tent and killed by a grizzly bear early Tuesday morning while camping along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
The woman, identified as Leah Davis Lokan, was traveling with her sister and a friend on the much-anticipated bike trip, which was set to follow a scenic bikepacking route running nearly 2,500 miles from northern Montana to southern New Mexico.
The tiny western Montana town of Ovando sees about 1,000 visitors from the Divide each year, many of whom camp overnight right in town. Lokan and her companions were camped behind the 75-person-town’s post office when the bear pulled Lokan from her tent and killed her. The bear had woken them up before the attack and startled them, but had wandered off at about 3 a.m. The campers removed food from their tents, stored it elsewhere, and went back to sleep before being woken again by the attack. Lokan's two companions sprayed the bear with bear spray, driving the animal away, then called the sheriff's office at about 4:15 a.m.
Since the campers had food in their tents in the first place, some have speculated that being within town limits gave the campers a sense of false security, leading to complacency.
This behavior is highly unusual for a grizzly bear. Most bear encounters stem from the bears feeling threatened, either when a bear is surprised or when a bear is trying to protect its food or cubs. Rarely does a bear attack a sleeping person, though Montana grizzly bear populations have been growing in recent years and human-bear interactions have increased, the Washington Post reported
Grizzly bears are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, as they are classified as threatened. The area in which this attack took place, the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, is home to about 1,000 grizzly bears and many more black bears, and they're part of a tricky recovery effort that hinges on keeping bears out of trash and away from livestock and pets. Still, despite efforts to protect the threatened species, any bear that is determined to pose an ongoing threat to humans is tracked and killed.
Fish, Wildlife & Parks and local law enforcement agencies have searched unsuccessfully for three days for the bear, which was determined to be a male weighing about 400 pounds (181 kg). They have set traps all over the town, including at the camp spot and near a chicken coop the bear also raided that night. Authorities took DNA from the attack and plan to kill any bear found with matching DNA. A helicopter with infrared technology was also used in the search, though a heatwave in Montana has made distinguishing a bear from its surroundings difficult.
The town has closed all its informal campsites least until Sunday while the search continues, and it has opened up the fire station and a church for bikers to sleep inside. The town also had previously remodeled an old jail with cots for campers, the Associated Press reported
Lokan, a registered nurse who participated in mountain bike races and was an experienced outdoorswoman, is remembered as someone who was always up for an adventure.
"A woman in her 60s, and she’s doing this kind of stuff — she had a passion for life that was out of the ordinary," her friend Mary Flowers said. Other friends remember her as a kind, deeply caring person who told great stories.
Our condolences to those affected by this tragic loss.