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Bad bears making headlines

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coming soon to a cable TV channel near you, a new reality show: "Bears Behaving Badly!"

Not really, but based on recent events, it could.

On Aug. 15, in four different states, bears attacked eight people and injured six. Two of the attacks involved grizzly bears, the other two black bears.

The first took place in northwest Wyoming, along Yellowstone National Park's Cygnet Lakes Trail, when four hikers came across a grizzly cub on the trail.

Before the hikers could retreat, the cub's mother burst out of some thick undergrowth and charged. During the attack, which lasted about a minute, the bear managed to claw and bite two people before it was driven away by pepper spray.

Yellowstone officials say all of the hikers returned to the trailhead without assistance from emergency personnel. None of the victims' injuries were life threatening, but one hiker was taken to a hospital for treatment.

The second attack occurred only half an hour later, 50 miles to the west, near Idaho's Island Park Reservoir.

Two researchers, working for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, were attacked near Island Park Reservoir in eastern Idaho. According to reports, the two men inadvertently walked up on a sleeping grizzly.

The bear charged one of the men, bit him on the bottom and turned to attack the other man. By then, the second fellow had grabbed a can of pepper spray but still got bitten on his hands as he turned the spray on the charging bruin.

Fellow workers took the two injured men to a nearby hospital for treatment.

The third and most high profile attack took place in northern Michigan, where 12-year-old Abby Wetherell was attacked and seriously mauled by a black bear.

The youngster was jogging along a dirt road on her grandparents' property near Cadillac when the bear emerged from some nearby woods. Wetherell sprinted away, but the bear overtook her, knocked her to the ground and began clawing and biting her.

Only when Wetherell played dead did the animal break off its attack. The injured youth made her way back to her grandparents' cabin and was airlifted to a hospital, where she underwent surgery for wounds to her thigh. Her wounds took more than 100 stitches to close.

The fourth attack took place a couple of hours later near Pagosa Springs, Colo. A woman, camping in a tent on private property, got a rude awakening when a bear clawed its way into the tent and bit her on the arm.

She screamed, and the bear ran away. Her fellow campers called 911. She was treated and released at a nearby hospital for puncture wounds.

Reports like these make me wonder why similar attacks are so very rare in West Virginia.

One reason is that all of our bears are black bears, which are far less likely to attack than grizzlies. Another reason could be that most West Virginians have the sense to give bears a wide berth.

The Mountain State's only fully confirmed and documented bear attack took place - about this same time of year, now that I think about it - in 2003. A man training a pack of bear dogs cornered a bruin between two huge boulders, high on Randolph County's Cheat Mountain.

When the bear tore into his dogs, Philip Propst entered the crevice to pull the dogs away. At that same time, the bear broke around the dogs and ran over Propst. He threw his arms up to protect himself, but the bear bit his hands, breaking bones and leaving gaping wounds.

Like all the victims mentioned in this column, Propst survived the ordeal. But if producers ever create that "Bears Behaving Badly" TV show, you can bet they'll give him a call.


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