An 8-year-old Florida boy and his father were mauled by a black bear that pounced on the boy in a creek without provocation in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, authorities said Tuesday.
Evan Pala was cut, scratched and bitten. His father, John Pala of Boca Raton, also was cut before driving off the bear with rocks and sticks. They were both treated and released from a nearby hospital a few hours after the attack late Monday.
The boy was playing in a creek near a popular trail “and the bear just came and pounced on him for no apparent reason,” park spokeswoman Nancy Gray said.
The boy scared the bear off once, but it returned before the father finally drove it away.
Park rangers tracked down a young male bear weighing about 55 pounds that they suspected of being the attacker. When the bear acted aggressively toward the rangers, they shot it.
The animal was taken to the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center for a necropsy to establish that it was the right bear, based on teeth and claw measurements, among other things. Gray said the animal also would be tested for rabies, which has never been found in a Smokies bear.
Gray said black bears have injured people eight times in the past decade in the Great Smokies, a 520,000-acre preserve straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border that has about 1,600 bears and draws more than 9 million visitors annually. One attack was fatal.
Attack rare because no food present
In most cases, the bears attacked a person while trying to poach their food. But no food was present when the bear attacked the boy around 7:30 p.m. Monday as he was playing in the water about 300 yards up Rainbow Falls Trail, about 2.5 miles south of Gatlinburg, Gray said.
“This is so rare,” said Lynn Rogers, director of the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minn. “I don’t know if you would call a bear like that a demented bear, like some people, or a super bear that decides, ’Hey, I can take a person.”’
Gray said roaming bears have been active this year, with several wandering into urban areas. Yet there have been fewer cases of “problem” or “nuisance” bears requiring capture and relocation.
The North American Bear Center lists 61 people killed by black bears in North America since 1900, with 46 of those in Alaska or Canada.
But there have been two fatal attacks in eastern Tennessee: A Tennessee school teacher was killed in 2000 by a female bear and cub during a day hike in the Great Smokies and an Ohio family was attacked in 2006 in bordering Cherokee National Forest, killing a 6-year-old girl and injuring her 2-year-old brother and mother.