California bicycle owner tenting at Ovando was sufferer of uncommon predatory grizzly assault | State & Regional


AMY BETH HANSON Associated Press

HELEN — A California woman fatally mauled by a grizzly bear in western Montana last summer was the victim of a rare predatory attack by a forage-conditioned bear, likely attracted to food in and near her tent and smells emanating from recent animals Independence Day picnics were left behind, animal officials said.

Leah Davis Lokan, 65, of Chico, was killed in the early morning hours of July 6, 2021 in the small town of Ovando on the banks of the Blackfoot River, which is cut through the film “A River Runs Through Her.” The town borders a vast wooded area, where an estimated 1,000 grizzly bears live.

About an hour before the mauling, the bear had approached the tents of Lokan and a Texan couple who were camping behind a museum. They were able to scare away the bear.

Lokan, a retired nurse, told the couple that the bear “snorted at my head,” according to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s Board of Review incident report.

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Lokan turned down an offer to sleep in a hotel where her sister and friend were staying, investigators reported. The women took part in a long-awaited bike ride along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

After the initial encounter, Lokan took some wrapped snacks and dry lentils from her tent and retrieved a can of bear spray, the inquest found.

However, her toiletries — in two sachets that previously contained dried blueberries and still smelled of berries — remained in the tent, investigators said. She had stored groceries in the saddlebags of her bike about ten feet from her tent, the report said.

The Texas couple were woken up just after 4 a.m. by noises that suggested Lokan was being attacked. The man yelled at the bear and used his pepper spray after seeing the bear “pounce up and down” on Lokan and their tent.

The 417-pound (189-kilogram) male grizzly bear broke his neck and severed his spine, an autopsy found, causing his instant death. A nearly empty can of bear spray was found under their tent, which appeared to have been used recently, officials said.

The bear that mauled Lokan was shot dead three days later while raiding a chicken coop near Ovando. DNA testing confirmed it was the same grizzly bear that also raided another chicken coop in the hours after the mauling. The bear was 4 to 7 years old, investigators said.

“Not all bears that show food-related behavior show predatory behavior. But for some unknown reason, a predatory response was induced in this bear,” the June 28 report said. “While foraging for food in Ovando under cover of darkness, the bear may react to a simple movement of the sleeping victim or a specific sound from the victim and eventually take Ms. Lokan’s life.”

Wildlife officials recommend that if a grizzly bear approaches an occupied tent, campers should take shelter in a building or vehicle and not return to the tent for the night, the report said.

Investigators also urged Tour Divide bike race organizers to inform participants that they are racing through grizzly and black bear country, educate them on proper food storage, encourage them to carry pepper spray and to be attentive.

Lokan’s family suggested that bear spray manufacturers incorporate a unique whistle into a bear spray trigger that could alert others and provide an additional deterrent to bears, the report said.