Results of DNA testing released yesterday by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources show that a bear killed in Wexford County by conservation officers was not the animal blamed for a non-fatal attack on 12-year-old Abby Wetherell on Aug. 15.
The attack on Wetherell took place in Wexford County, just two miles from where the second bear was killed.
According to Ed Golder, spokesman for the DNR, the second bear was killed after it appeared to pose a threat to a homeowner in the area.
"The property owner came out of his house because he heard something near his dumpster," Golder said. "He shone his flashlight and saw eye shine that indicated a bear. He turned to go back toward the house (and) when he turned around again, still on his way to the house, the bear was closer to him and he feared for his safety. The wounded bear ran off. We later tracked, shot and killed the animal."
Because of the close proximity to the attack on Wetherell, the decision was made to test the DNA of the dead bear in order to compare it to the samples that were collected at the location of the bear attack on the young girl.
"It definitely was not the same bear," said Katie Keen, a wildlife technician with the DNR. "The bear that was killed was an older male and the DNA of the bear that attacked Amy showed it was a female. We are continuing to look for the bear that attacked her and for any evidence that there were cubs with the female when the attack occurred."
If there were cubs in the area, it would explain the actions of the bear when it went after the 12-year-old, Keen added.
The way the original attack unfolded seemed to be a case of the young girl being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Amy was jogging home to her grandfather's cabin when she saw the bear," Keen said. "She then began running faster and that is when the bear chased her and knocked her down."
The bear then clawed at the girl but the only reports of any bites are that the girls shirt was ripped, possibly by the bears teeth. Once the bear stopped the attack and began to leave, the girl then got up and started running. The bear went after her again and once more knocked her down. A neighbor nearby heard the girl calling for help and when he ran up, it startled the bear and the animal ran off.
Wetherell was airlifted to Munson Medical Center where she underwent surgery for deep laceration on her thigh. She returned home within two days of the incident.
"Abby is home and seems to be doing very well," Golder said by email last week. "We're all very thankful for that. She's a brave and resilient young woman."
Attacks of this sort with black bears are very rare, DNR specialists say. In most cases, bears will avoid humans when possible. With an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 bears in the state, most being in the Upper Peninsula, it becomes clear that the animals avoid human contact. But the DNR suggest the following in the event of a bear encounter.
- When in bear country, travel in small groups and make noise as to not surprise a bear.
- If there is an encounter with a black bear, stand your ground, do not run and back away slowly. Try not to show any fear. DO NOT PLAY DEAD
- Try to make yourself look bigger and talk to the bear in a stern voice.
- If you are attacked, fight back using a stick, your bare hands, backpack, whatever is available.
- Carry pepper spray, which has been shown to be effective in fending off bear attacks.
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