Authorities try to catch bear that mauled family, killing child
BENTON, Tenn. – Authorities put out traps baited with honey buns and doughnuts Friday in hopes of capturing a potentially crazed black bear that killed a 6-year-old girl and mauled her mother and 2-year-old brother.It was only the second documented attack on a human by a black bear in modern Tennessee history, said state Wildlife Resources Agency spokesman Dan Hicks.”There is a chance that the same bear would attack someone else, so I hope they do catch him,” said Lynn Rogers of the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minn.Black bears generally avoid humans, animal experts said. Rangers at the Cherokee National Forest, where the attack took place Thursday, said a disease, tumor or parasite might have made the animal more aggressive.The 350- to 400-pound bear attacked the family at a waterfall near a campground after several adult visitors tried to drive it off the trail, Hicks said.The bear bit the boy’s head, then went after the child’s mother after she tried to fend off the attack with rocks and sticks, Hicks said. The animal picked up the woman with its mouth and dragged her off the trail.The girl apparently ran away, and about an hour later was found with the bear hovering over her body, Hicks said. A rescuer fired a shot that scared the animal off, Hicks said. Authorities said they did not know whether it was wounded.Dogs failed to pick up the bear’s trail in an overnight search, and authorities set out traps in the thousand-acre area around the attack site.The girl was identified by the U.S. Forest Service as Elora Petrasek. Her mother, Susan Cenkus, 45, of Clyde, Ohio, was in critical condition at a Chattanooga hospital, while her brother Luke Cenkus was upgraded to stable condition. Both are expected to recover.Luke suffered a bite wound that punctured his skull, while his mother had eight puncture wounds to the neck and too many claw and tooth injuries to count elsewhere on her body, doctors said.Authorities have not been able to talk to Susan Cenkus because of her injuries. “She may not remember the attack at all,” Hicks said.Rogers, the bear expert, said there have been only 56 documented killings of humans by black bears in North America in the past 100 years. Rogers said the current population of black bears in North America is around 750,000, and there is generally fewer than one killing a year.In May 2000, a woman was killed by a black bear near Gatlinburg as she walked on a trail near a Smoky Mountains campground.Joe Clark, a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Geological Service who has been studying black bears for about 20 years, said injuries or sickness can make them more aggressive. They also may attack when surprised or, in the case of females, to protect their cubs.”I’ve never experienced any type of aggression in all my time in the woods,” he said. “Typically you won’t encounter one because they sense your presence a long time before you sense theirs.”As the populations of people and bears continue to grow there will be more opportunities for this type of thing,” Clark said. “We are dealing with a large, powerful wild animal.”Authorities at the Cherokee National Forest said that if the animal is captured it will be killed so tests can be done to determine if it was ill.”We may never find it,” Hicks said. “It may be on the top of another mountain by now.”The attack occurred in a mountainous area, 10 miles from the nearest highway. The national forest covers 1,000 square miles along the Tennessee-North Carolina line.No more than six groups of campers were at the campground at the time, and they were evacuated after the attack, Hicks said.He said that this is the time of year when bears are usually active, and that there have been 42 bear sightings in the area in the past couple of weeks.