ANCHORAGE — A 64-year-old Fairbanks man was mauled to death by a bear at a remote lake in Alaska’s interior, authorities said Friday.
The man and a family member were at a cabin at George Lake, about 110 miles southeast of Fairbanks, when the attack occurred Thursday evening.
The family member sought shelter inside the cabin and called authorities, Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
A troopers helicopter dispatched from Fairbanks was unable to land in the terrain, but a Pavehawk helicopter from Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks was able to drop personnel at the site. Alaska Wildlife Troopers also responded by boat, aided by Good Samaritans.
Responders found the man’s body outside the cabin, and the traumatized family member inside. The victim was identified as Robert Weaver, Peters said.
“Troopers did search the area when they first got there, but no bear was located,” Peters said.
That soon changed, however, as responders investigating the death encountered a black bear.
“The black bear was stalking up on the trooper and the civilian who was assisting him, when they noticed it and killed it,” Peters said.
It wasn’t immediately known if this was the bear involved in the mauling.
The necropsy on the bear was completed Friday afternoon in Fairbanks, said Cathie Harms, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Measurements were taken for comparative purposes once the autopsy on Weaver’s body is completed in Anchorage.
“We’ll know more, but we may or may not know that this bear was involved in the attack,” she said.
The bear necropsied was an adult male. They don’t yet have an exact age, but assume it was an older bear because of the great deal of wear on its molars, she said.
It had normal levels of fat, meaning it was not in a condition of starvation, and did not have any apparent disease or infirmity, she said.
Harms stressed that it’s not yet known if this was the bear involved in the attack, or if it was a black bear attack, at all.
She said an attack by a bear is not common, even less so for black bears. Fatalities by black bears are even more rare. In fact, Harms said she could only find records for four deaths by a black bear in Alaska for the last 61 years.
The family member at the cabin with Weaver was his next of kin, Peters said. That person, who wasn’t identified, apparently was uninjured but traumatized.
“We haven’t done a follow-up interview yet with the person,” Peters said. “They are understandably very, very upset by what happened.”
“Our heart goes out to the family,” Harms said. “It’s a very sad situation and they have our sympathies.”
It wasn’t immediately known when authorities might be able to interview the other family member to see if they can get more details about what happened.
Peters said the important thing to take away from this is attack is to be always prepared and alert.
“Any time that you are out in Alaska recreating, whether it’s in your backyard or out camping in rural Alaska, there’s always a risk of coming into contact with wildlife,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a black bear or a brown bear or a polar bear, it doesn’t matter the size, they are wild animals, and they are dangerous,” Peters said.
She said people should familiarize themselves with safety tips on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s “Living with Bears” website: http://is.gd/2S3ZWu .
“Alaskans live in bear habitat and if people pay attention to about five basic rules, they can lessen their chance of an interaction or a serious interaction with bears,” Harms said.
Those include not surprising, approaching or feeding a bear, not camping on a trail and staying away from a bear’s food cache.