ALLEGHANY CO., Va. (WDBJ7)
Many of the people sleeping Monday night in the park say they're regular campers. They tell WDBJ7 they know to hide food, keep some sort of light on, and if they see a bear, walk, don't run, away. That's why they were surprised to hear of Sunday's bear attack within the park.
Hank Webb says he didn't realize there was a bear attack this weekend until he arrived at the park Monday and had already set up.
"It's unfortunate. Hopefully she'll recover and it won't happen again," Webb said.
One bear expert WDBJ7 spoke with in a phone interview says she's surprised it happened at all, considering it's so rare that one of the 17-thousand black bears in Virginia would attack someone.
"We have thousands of interactions every year between people and bears and very few will result in any sort of actual physical contact between the person and the bear," Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Black Bear Project Leader, Jaime Sajecki said.
She says a bear could attack out of defense, thinking they're going to get food, or if a person is standing in the way of a bear running away. There's also a long standing contentious relationship between bears and dogs.
"The presence of dogs alone can sometimes just agitate bears and often if there's a situation where a dog approaches a cub or tries to go after a bear cub, sometimes the bears will, instead of going after the dog, will focus their intent on the person," Sajecki said.
The hiker was walking her dogs Sunday. These facts made Hank Webb feel a little safer staying on these grounds.
"We don't bring our pets camping because we want to maintain that atmosphere as it is outside instead of back in the city," Webb said.
Sajecki says bears will typically run away from people, so there's no need to attack one if it's seen. Just hike in groups of two or more, keep dogs on leashes, and if you want, carry bear spray. If a bear does attack, she says playing dead is a myth. Fight back if you have to, but only if the bear attacks first.
State park officials are on the lookout for a bear in Douthat State Park after it attacked a woman Sunday afternoon.
Rangers closed the trails to the public and set bear traps and plan to set up cameras on the trails Tuesday.
The woman told rangers she was walking her dogs when she came across a bear around 1:00 p.m. near the Tuscarora Overlook.
"She was wounded in her legs and was able to walk out of the park-the trail unassisted," said Department of Conservation and Recreation spokesman Jim Meisner Jr.
The victim was treated at LewisGale Hospital Alleghany for non-life-threatening injuries and then transported to Roanoke Memorial for additional care.
Rangers were able to get genetic samples from her wounds and will use them to compare them to any bears they capture.
"That bear once we find it would have to be euthanized to check for rabies for the sake of the victim," said Meisner Jr.
"The park system is taking care of the cabin for the family. We are taking care of the dogs. We wish her a speedy recovery."
Officials say her injuries are not life-threatening.
The trails are expected to be close either until the bear is found or through Friday when Rangers will reassess the situation.
Although the area is home to black bears, bear sightings are rare, and bear attacks are even more uncommon.
The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation offer the following tips if you encounter a bear while hiking:
-Enjoy the experience from a distance, don't panic!
-Hiking at dawn or dusk may increase your chances of meeting a bear, so always be aware of your surroundings.
-Use extra caution in places where hearing or visibility is limited, such as brushy areas, near streams, where trails round a bend and on windy days.
-Reduce your chances of surprising a bear on the trail by making noise such as talking or singing.
-Make sure children are close to you or within your sight at all times.
-Don't run, get loud, get big, and walk away.
-Report any aggressive bear behavior to the park office.