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The grizzly had fled after being doused in anti-bear spray

The grizzly had fled after being doused in anti-bear spray

The grizzly had fled after being doused in anti-bear spray

The grizzly bear had already poked around the camping site before being shooed away, but this time it wasn’t to be deterred. After it caught the waft of stashed food in its nostrils, the bear tore into the tent’s canvas.

The outcome was grim. Leah Davis Lokan, a 65-year-old described posthumously as “incredibly strong, incredibly athletic, brave, fearless” lay mortally wounded, the collapsed tent partly covering her body.

“I am a nurse. I have seen a lot of trauma in my life, and I knew it wasn’t good when I saw her,” says Katie Boerner, a friend who was camping with Lokan and the victim’s sister, Kim, during a stop-off on the Great Divide cycle route that traverses the spine of the Rocky Mountains all the way to New Mexico.

The mauling, which took place on 6 July, brought unprecedented uproar to Ovando, a tiny hamlet nestled in a picturesque valley of western Montana. “It was complete pandemonium, there was a lot of screaming and crying going on,” says Fred Valiton, who runs Ovando’s only guest house and was called to the incident as part of the local volunteer firefighting team.

Lokan succumbed to her injuries quickly, Valiton says, mimicking the hefty swipe of a bear’s paw. “They’re very strong and they’re made to kill things,” he says. The rescue team attempted to save her regardless, albeit with some nervousness. “You certainly don’t need a bear sneaking up on you while you’re trying to do CPR in the dark,” says Valiton.

The grizzly had fled after being doused in anti-bear spray by Kim Lokan and was spotted two nights later by wildlife officials using night vision goggles as it raided a chicken coop. The 400lb male bear was felled by marksmen, and DNA tests confirmed it was responsible for the death. Locals say Lokan had a granola bar and perhaps some berries in her tent, which attracted the bear even after she had moved the food, although an official investigation is pending.

Two decades ago a hunter was killed by a grizzly in woodlands not far from Ovando, but no one in this village of 50 souls had known anything like this to happen right in the heart of town. “It shocked us to our core,” says Valiton. “It was our absolute worst nightmare.”

A flier warns campers about grizzly bear activity in Ovando.
A flyer warns campers about grizzly bear activity in Ovando. Photograph: Paul Christian Gordon/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock
A fatal encounter with a grizzly bear, or any bear, is exceptionally rare. “You’re literally more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a bear,” says Kim Johnston, who has worked as a bear specialist for the state government – but many in Montana view Lokan’s death as further evidence that a burgeoning and spreading grizzly population, aided by four decades of federal protection, is now increasingly bumping up against residents and visitors of the US west.

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The number of bears is increasing as a growing number of people seek a bucolic slice of what was once bear habitat. The human population in bear strongholds in south-west Montana has escalated by up to a third over the past decadeand house prices in Bozeman have exploded to the extent that one local man resorted to holding up a sign downtown that read “Please sell me a home.” The two species now share more mutual startled gawps and more conflicts.

Human-bear interactions are increasing, researchers largely agree, with these encounters involving a mixture of tragedy, ignorance and sheer bad luck. In April, Charles “Carl” Mock was killed by a grizzly bear after he inadvertently wandered too close to a moose carcass in Yellowstone national park. A month later, Samantha Dehring, a tourist from Illinois, got to within 15ft of a Yellowstone grizzly, which is against park rules, to take a photo and had to flee the riled bear. In August, a couple of hikers near the town of Ennis were injured after they bumped into a sow grizzly bear with her cubs.

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