DNA identifies bear that attacked runner - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

DNA identifies bear that attacked runner

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Posted: Wednesday, October 22, 2008 9:13 pm | Updated: 11:21 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -An analysis of DNA found in saliva and hair shows that the grizzly bear killed by state biologists is the same one that attacked a runner this summer.

However, the results exonerated the bear in a more serious attack on a bicyclist in the same area of Far North Bicentennial Park.

The DNA analysis is believed to be the first conducted to identify a bear involved in a mauling, said Sandra Talbot, a research geneticist and director of the Molecular Ecology Laboratory at the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage.

Scientists were provided with a bike helmet and a shirt with bite holes in it from the two attacks for analysis, Talbot said.

The shirt belonged to Clivia Feliz, 51. It was frozen to preserve the DNA shortly after the August incident, Talbot said.

Feliz was attacked Aug. 8. after ignoring a warning sign to stay off the trail because of aggressive bears. She was hospitalized with bites on her head and neck and a collapsed lung.

The genetic material collected from Feliz's clothing matched the bear's DNA. The chances the DNA came from any other brown bear was smaller than one in 10 million.

"As it turns out they were absolutely correct," Talbot said of the DNA match.

The helmet, which was scored with bite marks, belonged to Petra Davis, a 15-year-old girl attacked in June while competing in a 24-hour bike race along the same park trail adjacent to a salmon-rich stream.

The girl was hospitalized with a crushed trachea and partially severed carotid artery. Officials have said the bike helmet likely saved the girl's life.

DNA cleared the bear of being involved in that June 29 attack, and authorities do not know the identity of the aggressive bear.

The DNA came from the sow after it was killed by Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists on Aug. 19. Besides the two attacks, the bear was suspected of being involved in numerous run-ins with park users last summer. Her two cubs were captured and sent to a zoo.

Talbot said the DNA analysis took longer than usual because scientists had to distinguish the DNA from the sow's mother, who also lives near the park where the attacks occurred.

DNA was recently collected from over 20 other grizzly bears in the Anchorage area, collected as part of a different study. The DNA of the dead sow and her two cubs, now at the Indianapolis Zoo, also are in the database.

Three people were mauled by grizzly bears this summer in the sprawling Anchorage municipality, where residents share the space with more than 300 black bears and 50 to 60 grizzlies.

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