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Hiker might have triggered bear attack by interrupting mating session, official says

Los Angeles Times Los Angeles Times 12/10/2016 Joseph Serna

Note to hikers: Do not interrupt bears while mating.

Just ask hiker Dan Richman, who state game wardens say may have unintentionally done just that Monday when he saw a bear on a hiking trail in the Sierra Madre foothills and was attacked by its presumed mate about 10:45 a.m.

According to Sierra Madre police and state Fish and Wildlife officials, Richman was walking on a trail about two miles north of Bailey Canyon Wilderness Park near George's Cabin when a bear appeared ahead of him and stood on its hind legs.

Richman said he then turned around to leave and saw a second bear, which attacked.

Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan said in an email that a game warden believed the bears "may have been a mating pair that was interrupted."

"The hiker probably just surprised the bears and they reacted the way an animal with teeth and claws does, attack," Hughan said.

In an interview with KTLA, Richman said he "freaked out" after seeing the first bear but was trapped by the one that approached him from behind.

"At that point I was trapped. I yelled at the top of my lungs in an attempt to scare it,and it seemed to work and it started to run up the mountain," Richman said.

Richman said he tried to run past the bear blocking his escape but he wasn't fast enough.

"He first grabbed my wrist, put his mouth around the back of my neck. I just stayed really, really still," Richman said. "It was the only chance I had. It's hard to imagine until one attacks you and you just feel the strength in its jaws and its body."

FILE: A black bear walks across a meadow near Tower Fall in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming in this file photo taken June 20, 2011. © REUTERS/Jim Urquhart FILE: A black bear walks across a meadow near Tower Fall in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming in this file photo taken June 20, 2011. The bear eventually lost interest and walked away. After making sure the coast was clear, police said, Richman ran back to his home at the bottom of the trail and called 911.

He was hospitalized with puncture wounds, deep scratches and bruises. Hughan said it didn't appear Richman did anything to provoke the attack.

"Bad luck," Hughan said. "Wrong time, wrong place."

Game wardens searching the area spotted a bear but it ran away, Hughan said. Officials estimate the bear that attacked Richman was a full grown adult, at least 3 years old. The bear was likely not tagged, and if it is caught it will be euthanized, he said.

The park where Richman was attacked is part of a small nature-study area with trails and oak trees and is surrounded by quiet residential streets near a sprawling Catholic retreat center.

An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 black bears live in California, though the animals are more commonly seen in Central and Northern California. The larger and more bellicose grizzly bear was wiped out in California more than 90 years ago, although in recent years there has been a modest campaign to reintroduce the animal.

In Southern California's foothill communities, sprawling development and the effect of drought have made bear encounters or sightings an occasional event. Residents have reported spotting bears taking a dip in backyard pools or rummaging through trash bins.

But wildlife officials emphasize that bear attacks are rare.

Sierra Madre Police Chief Larry Giannone said officers often see bears and don't usually observe aggressive behavior.

Police "typically shoo them back up into the foothills," Giannone said.

In June, a 120-pound black bear was euthanized after it injured a man who was camping above Altadena in the Angeles National Forest.

A bear scavenging for food on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park attacked a 67-year-old man last summer. The man survived but suffered numerous cuts to his arms, legs and body, as well as defensive wounds to his hands, DFW Lt. Chris Stoots said.

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