Man survives mauling

Bear surprises Homer jogger in 20-second attack

Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2006


  Bear mauling victim Michael Mugoven talks about his bear mauling at South Peninsula Hospital Tuesday morning. Photo by Michael Armstrong, Home

Bear mauling victim Michael Mugoven talks about his bear mauling at South Peninsula Hospital Tuesday morning.

Photo by Michael Armstrong, Home

A North Fork man survived a brown bear attack about 8:30 a.m. Sunday near his home on Knob Hill Road near Epperson Knob at about Mile 7 of North Fork Road.

Michael Mungoven, 45, received numerous wounds and was in surgery for 11 hours and remained hospitalized early this week. He said he expects to fully recover.

The last recorded attack on the lower Kenai Peninsula was in March 2003, when a sow attacked a man with a seismic crew northeast of Anchor Point, said Tom Smith, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center.

The attack came while Mungoven jogged on a trail with his dogs near his North Fork house, a run he said he’s done hundreds of times since moving into his house in 1999. As he passed by a clump of thick black spruce, Mungoven said he heard a thrashing — a sound different from a moose scrambling away.

Mungoven looked up and saw an adult brown bear.

“It was just a force coming,” he said Tuesday morning at South Peninsula Hospital. “All of a sudden, bam, it was right there.”

For a brief moment, Mungoven said he remembers seeing the morning sunlight catch the fur on the bear — “a big, beautiful golden,” he said.

Then the bear was on him.

“It was so fast, I don’t remember,” he said.

He thought he took a step back. He remembers falling on his back and the bear snapping at him — head, shoulders, side.

“I remember at one point thinking, ‘This isn’t the way I want to go,’” Mungoven said.

Mungoven rolled onto his belly, curled up and played dead — the classic defensive technique bear experts advise for a brown bear attack.

“I lay real still,” he said. “Curling up worked. That’s pretty much the only thing you can do. It had its last little bite and went away.”

Smith said Mungoven did the right thing. With an attack like that, a bear usually acts reflexively and attacks to scare away a perceived threat. When the bear sees the threat is gone, it usually will go away, Smith said.

The attack lasted about 20 seconds, Mungoven said. When it was over, miraculously the bear didn’t break any bones, didn’t sever any nerves and didn’t hit any major arteries.

Bleeding badly, Mungoven walked about 1,000 yards to his house and got help from his wife, Lisa Climo.

“He was a mess,” she said.

Knowing it could take emergency medical technicians a while to get to their home, Climo drove her husband to South Peninsula Hospital. The trip to town usually takes 30 minutes.

“I’d say it took 15,” she said.

Mungoven said the bear bit him on the left side of his head, on his left shoulder and on both buttocks. The bites came close to his spine as well arteries in his neck and leg.

“It missed all the important parts,” he said.

Dr. Rene Alvarez did the surgery, mostly to clean and drain wounds, Mungoven said.

Mungoven’s dogs, each weighing about 95 pounds, ran away during the attack and didn’t complicate the situation, he said.

Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement Trooper Travis Bordner met Mungoven at the hospital after a neighbor had called in the attack. Based on a short interview before Mungoven went into surgery, Bordner said he thinks either Mungoven got between a sow and her cubs, or disturbed the bear while it was on a kill.

Mungoven said he thought he might have heard mewing coming from the area, but he couldn’t be sure. He didn’t know if the bear that attacked him was a boar or a sow. The bear didn’t make any sounds while attacking, he said.

His North Fork neighbors have seen both black and brown bears in the area this year. Tuesday, Serge LeComte, a neighbor visiting Mungoven at the hospital, said the brown bear that probably attacked Mungoven had been seen in the area.

Bordner said brown bears sightings and encounters have become more common closer to Homer. Last year, an Ohlson Mountain man shot a brown bear when it attacked his goats.

“We used to see them the other side of Ohlson Mountain, but they’re drifting into town,” Bordner said.

Troopers posted yellow caution signs on the North Fork on Sunday, Bordner said. They also put out an alert on local radio stations.

“Our main thing was to let people know he’s all right and that the brown bears are out there,” Bordner said.

A black bear got into a cabin on Skyline Drive near the water tanks last weekend, Bordner said. Sunday night Bordner killed a newborn moose calf on Diamond Ridge after a small black bear attacked it and ran off.

Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Tom Dunn, head of the Anchor Point Post, E Detachment, said troopers don’t have plans to go in and track the bear.

If the suspect bear is seen again and appears to be unusually aggressive, he said troopers would re-evaluate the situation.

Mungoven works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. His job takes him into the Alaska Bush, and he’s worked in remote areas in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta.

“There’s a little bit of irony — you have to do this at home,” he said of being attacked. He said given how badly he was injured, he was glad to have been attacked near his home and not hundreds of miles from a hospital.

“The docs keep saying how lucky it all is,” Mungoven said. “I’ll take it.”

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