HELENA Mont.—A grizzly bear that pulled a California woman from her tent and killed her this week was fatally shot early Friday by wildlife officials using night-vision goggles to stake out a chicken coop that the animal raided near the small Montana town where the woman was attacked.
Federal wildlife workers shot the bear shortly after midnight when it approached a trap set near the coop about 2 miles from Ovando, where 65-year-old Leah Davis Lokan of Chico, California, was killed Tuesday, said Greg Lemon with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The bear had raided the chicken coop overnight Wednesday, and officials set a baited trap nearby hoping to lure the animal back, Lemon said. Local authorities said campsites in town would stay closed until DNA evidence from the animal comes back.
“Based on the size of the bear, the color of the bear and the nature of the chicken coop raids, we’re confident we’ve got the offending bear,” he said.
Lemon said tracks found at the coop also matched those near the fatal attack in Ovando.
The town along the banks of the Blackfoot River—made famous by the movie “A River Runs Through It”—has fewer than 100 people and borders a huge expanse of forested lands that stretches to the Canadian border. The region is home to an estimated 1,000 grizzlies.
Bear attacks on people are relatively rare, particularly in inhabited areas, and Ovando businesses cater to adventuresome tourists, including bicyclists like Lokan who are allowed to pitch their tents in town.
Dona Aitken, an artist who lives about 7 miles east of the town, said the bear’s death would bring relief to the community. Aitken sees grizzlies occasionally and signs of them such as droppings and tracks but hasn’t been bothered by them.
“Everybody recognizes this as really abnormal behavior to actually attack somebody sleeping in a tent in town,” she said. “I think we still don’t have a good answer for why he did that.”
Investigators gathered DNA evidence from the attack and will compare it to samples gathered from the dead grizzly, which was taken to a state wildlife laboratory in Bozeman for a necropsy, Lemon said. The results could be available in the next three days.
Until then, Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles said he would maintain a closure on outdoor campsites in Ovando.
Lokan, a registered nurse who had worked at a hospital in Chico, was an experienced outdoors enthusiast and cyclist who was on a mountain biking trip. She and two companions were camping behind the Ovando post office when she was attacked.
Friends described Lokan as a free spirit and competitive—and aware of the dangers she faced on the trip.
“She had a really good spirit. She always had a smile on her face. Always lit up when she saw you. Always gave you a big hug,” said Mike Castaldo, president of the Chico Cycling Team, who knew Lokan for about 15 years. “But I think most of her identity was, you know, outside on the bike, enjoying the outdoors was her thing.”
The estimated 400-pound bear awakened Lokan and her companions in a nearby tent about 3 a.m. Tuesday, officials said. After the bear ran away, the campers removed food from their tents, secured it and went back to sleep, Montana wildlife officials say.
About 15 minutes later, the bear was seen on a video camera at a business about a block away from the post office, wildlife officials said.
About 4:15 a.m., the sheriff’s office received a 911 call after two people in a tent near the victim’s were awakened by sounds of the attack, Roselles said. They used bear spray, and the animal ran away.
The bear is also believed to have entered a chicken coop in town that night, killing and eating several chickens.
Authorities hunted for the animal over three days, using helicopters and searchers on the ground and setting out five large traps made from steel culverts and baited with roadkill to attract the bear.
Bears that attack people are not always killed if the mauling resulted from a surprise encounter or the bear was defending its young. But the bear involved in Lokan’s death was considered a public safety threat.
In neighboring Idaho, a female bear with her cub attacked and injured a man running on a trail Friday. The bear charged him, and he laid down to try to protect himself. The grizzly struck him several times and ran off, Idaho wildlife officials said. His injuries weren’t life-threatening, and he was able to make it back to his cabin to call 911. He was taken to a hospital.
By Amy Beth Hanson and Matthew Brown