The veterinarian who examined the bear responsible for the fatal attack in Wales, Alaska, three weeks ago said the bear was an “older” adult male in poor physical condition: the most dangerous bear for anyone to encounter. Recall the armed cruise ship guard who was ambushed and mauled by a desperately thin bear in July 2018 in the Svalbard archipelago–and only survived because his colleague was able to shoot the bear quickly. In this most recent attack, Summer Myomick and her 1-year-old son, Clyde Ongtowasruk didn’t stand a chance as they were ambushed in a driving snowstorm just steps from the safety of the community school they had just left.
Results of a complete necropsy won’t be available for months. Quotes from the news report below.
From the A/P News report (6 February 2023) about the Wales attack on 17 January:
Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen, a state wildlife veterinarian, collected and examined samples from the bear’s head the day after the attack, when weather conditions allowed her and an Alaska State Trooper to fly to the village.
The results of her analysis, which were released Monday but initially were dated Feb. 3, indicates the bear was an adult male, probably older and in poor physical health. Officials sent a tooth to a lab to determine the bear’s age, but those results won’t be known for months.
Standard tests conducted on available tissues for pathogens were negative for rabies, toxoplasmosis, distemper and avian influenza.
“There is no definitive explanation as to why the bear was in poor body condition,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a joint statement.
As I’ve said before about polar bears in poor condition:
“…there are at least eleven natural causes of loss of body condition for polar bears (getting thinner and/or emaciated to the point of death) that must be ruled out before starvation can be blamed on lack of sea ice (many of which require a necropsy):
- Lack of experience hunting (young bears, 2-5 yrs)
- Competition from older, bigger bears (young bears, 2-5 yrs)
- Competition from younger, stronger bears (old bears, > 20 yrs)
- Poor judgment
- Broken or rotting teeth (especially in old bears)
- Injuries from fighting (especially to the jaws)
- Injuries from hunting or falls (especially to the jaws)
- Illnesses (including cancers that cause muscle wasting)
- Thick ice in spring (fewer seals to hunt)
- Thick snow over ice in spring (seals hard to find)
- Less food for seals in summer (means less food for bears next spring)
References for above: 1–8. See original post here.
The reason a close examination of a thin bear is required to determine the cause of its condition is apparent below (even more so if the cause was an illness like cancer):
“I captured an emaciated but very large male polar bear one autumn when he should have been near his maximum weight. His weight was less than half that of similar-size males at that time. He seemed to be fit and his teeth were in excellent shape. On examination, however, we discovered that his maxilla [upper jaw] was broken through and there was a pronounced gap in his palate. The front portion of his upper jaw was attached only by the skin and musculature of his lips. His ability to bite and hold large prey was seriously compromised. How this injury was sustained is not clear. He has not been recaptured, and given the bear’s lean state just before tbe harshest season of the year, I suspect he did not survive the winter.“ [Amstrup 2003:602, my bold]
Amstrup, S.C. 2003. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus). In Wild Mammals of North America, G.A. Feldhamer, B.C. Thompson and J.A. Chapman (eds), pg. 587-610. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
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