By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - A mother grizzly bear, linked by DNA testing to the fatal mauling of a hiker whose body was found partially eaten in Yellowstone National Park, was euthanized on Thursday, park officials said.
The 259-pound (117-kg) bear, which was trapped on Saturday, was heavily sedated before it was put down with a bolt, park spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said.
A necropsy determined that the grizzly sow was at least 15 years old but found her to be healthy and turned up nothing that could help explain the attack, she said.
The hiker, 63-year-old Lance Crosby, suffered wounds to his forearms and elsewhere in the attack by the bear, and possibly her cubs. His body had been covered with vegetation in a sign that the bears intended to return to recover it, Bartlett said.
The cubs, which were captured this week, will be transferred to a captive facility, she said.
The bears were found not far from the off-trail site where Crosby, a registered nurse from Billings, Montana, had apparently gone for a hike without bear spray. He was reported missing on Friday by co-workers at a company that operates urgent care clinics in Yellowstone.
The park’s announcement it would kill the mother grizzly to ensure public safety unleashed a torrent of protest from wildlife advocates, who argued in emails, phone calls and online postings that the grizzlies were behaving as the bears do and that wild animals should come first at Yellowstone.
But park officials say the dual mission at Yellowstone is to provide a safe and positive experience for millions of visitors as well as a home for Western wildlife.
The park, which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, is celebrated for animals such as grizzlies, bison and wolves and for geothermal wonders like Old Faithful Geyser.
“The park is for preservation of resources but also visitor use and enjoyment,” Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk recently told Reuters.
Grizzly attacks are rare at the park, which last reported two separate deadly maulings in 2011 involving hikers, the first since 1986.
The controversy over the grizzly and her cubs comes as a government panel that manages the more than 700 massive bears that roam Yellowstone says the population has come back from the brink of extinction and should be stripped of protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh)