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Yellowstone grizzly attack: Why did it happen?

Yellowstone grizzly attack may result from two converging trends: More visitors to Yellowstone National Park and the rebounding grizzly bear population.

A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Wednesday July 6. A grizzly bear killed a man who was hiking with his wife in Yellowstone National Park's backcountry after the couple apparently surprised the female bear and its cubs on Wednesday. It was the park's first fatal grizzly mauling since 1986, but the third in the Yellowstone region in just over a year.

Jim Urquhart/AP

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The fatal grizzly bear attack on a hiker in Yellowstone National Park this week was the first in the park in 25 years.

But attacks on humans by grizzlies in the greater Yellowstone region – as well as other threatening encounters – are not unheard of, and this may be due to two converging trends.

One, the slow recovery of the grizzly bear from its federally protected status as a threatened species. And two, the number of visitors to Yellowstone – many of whom come to hike the trails where wildlife can be seen – has been growing by record numbers in recent years.

This has meant more opportunities for more people to see grizzlies in the wild, while also increasing the potential for danger.

In June 2010, a grizzly just released after being tranquilized for study killed an Illinois man hiking outside Yellowstone's east gate, the Associated Press reports. Last July, another grizzly killed a Michigan man and injured two others in a nighttime campground attack near Cooke City, Mont., northeast of the park. And earlier this year, a female grizzly injured two people hiking in the Gallatin National Forest north of Big Sky, Mont.

In this week’s attack, reports the National Park Service, a husband and wife had traveled about a mile and a half on Yellowstone’s Wapiti Lake trail when they surprised a grizzly sow with cubs.

“In an apparent attempt to defend a perceived threat to her cubs, the bear attacked and fatally wounded the man,” park officials said in a statement. “Another group of hikers nearby heard the victim’s wife crying out for help, and used a cell phone to call 911. Park rangers were summoned and quickly responded to the scene.”

Since then, patrols have been clearing the area of all backcountry users, and all trails and backcountry campsites in the area have been closed until further notice.

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