A grizzly bear dragged a bicyclist out of her tent in the middle of the night and killed her in a small Montana town early Tuesday, authorities say, before the animal escaped into the wilderness.
The attack happened around 3:30 a.m. on July 6 in the tiny community of Ovando, according to a statement from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP). The victim has been identified as Leah Davis Lokan, 65, of Chico, Calif., according to CBS News. The bear, which is thought to be a 400-pound male grizzly, has not been found.
Officials say Lokan was on a long-distance bicycling trip with some friends when they stopped to camp for the night in Ovando, a town of fewer than 100 people at the southern edge of a vast stretch of wilderness.
Lokan slept in one tent and a couple slept in another one nearby.
The bear wandered through the campsite and woke the trio around 3 a.m., according to FWP officials. The close call prompted the campers to remove all food from their tents before going back to sleep.
Surveillance footage captured video of the bear outside a nearby business at 3:15 a.m., shortly before it returned to the campsite a second time.
The couple in the second tent woke to the sounds of an attack and rushed out to see the animal mauling Lokan, officials say. The bear had “pulled the victim from the tent during the fatal attack,” they said.
The couple used bear spray to drive the grizzly away, then called 911.
First responders pronounced Lokan dead at the scene a short time later.
Wildlife officials launched a sweeping search using ground crews, helicopters and traps in an effort to find and kill the bear. The search came up empty, but authorities have saved a bit of the bear’s DNA in hopes of identifying it later.
They say the animal also breached a chicken coop and ate several birds on the night of the attack. Authorities have set up several traps around the coops in case the animal returns.
“Our best chance would be if the bear comes back and tries to get another chicken or some more food around town,” said Greg Lemon, a spokesperson for the Montana FWP. “Our wardens, they feel like they could readily identify the bear that they saw on the (surveillance footage) and if they saw that bear at the trap and had a clear shot at it, they might choose to do that.”
Lokan was a registered nurse who worked at a hospital in Chico, according to her friend, Mary Flowers. The victim had taken a few long-distance bike trips over the years, and she was looking forward to this one because her sister would be coming along for the ride, Flowers said.
“She loved these kinds of adventures. A woman in her 60s, and she’s doing this kind of stuff,” Flowers told the Associated Press. “She had a passion for life that was out of the ordinary.”
Grizzlies are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and their numbers have risen substantially under those protections in Montana. An estimated 1,000 bears are thought to live in the wilderness north of Ovando, which stretches up to the borders of Alberta and British Columbia.
Ovando locals say they’re used to living around the bears, and they know to be careful, but many have been rattled by the attack.
“Everybody’s pretty shaken up right now. The population here is 75 — everybody knows everybody,” saloon owner Tiffanie Zararelli told CBS. “The people from Montana, we know how to be ‘bear aware.’ But anything can happen.”
Fatal bear attacks are rare in the area, with only three on record over the last 20 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says. That includes the attack on Lokan.
Lemon says that the FWP will only kill bears that pose a public safety threat, and that officials do not go after bears that attack when surprised or defending young.
He added that campers should remain on the lookout after a visit from a bear, even after it has wandered off.
“You’ve secured your food, stay awake, stay vigilant and be ready,” he said.
“Having bear spray is important, and they did, but we don’t know if the victim did.”
—With files from The Associated Press