SWAIN COUNTY, N.C. — A medical examiner has confirmed that a man who died in Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year likely passed away due to trauma from a bear attack.
The North Carolina Office of Chief Medical Examiner released its final report in the death of Patrick Madura, a 43-year-old man from Elgin, Illinois, who the Asheville Citizen Times reports was camping in the remote Hazel Creek backcountry area of the park in Swain County.
On Sept. 11, 2020, the National Park Service (NPS) says backpackers found an unoccupied tent at a campsite and they later discovered what appeared to be human remains across a creek with a bear scavenging in the area.
Law enforcement was called and officers responded to the area, where they spotted the bear “actively scavenging on the remains and promptly euthanized” the animal, NPS says.
The nearby Hazel Creek Trail and the campsite were closed in response to the incident, but they have since reopened.
This incident is the second bear-related fatality in the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to NPS.
"Bears are an iconic symbol in the Smokies, but they are also dangerous wild animals, and their behavior is sometimes unpredictable" said Bill Stiver, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist. "There are inherent risks associated with hiking and camping in bear country. Black bears are the largest predator in the park, and although rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting serious injury and death.”
NPS says the park takes active measures to prevent “human-bear conflicts” in the backcountry, including providing aerial storage cables for backpackers to hang their gear and food, educating visitors on how to respond if a bear is encountered, and closing campsites when bear activity is reportedly high in a given area.
Hikers are also reminded to take necessary precautions while in bear country, including hiking in groups of three or more, carrying bear spray, complying with all backcountry closures, properly following food storage regulations, and remaining at a safe viewing distance from bears at all times.
“If attacked by a black bear, rangers strongly recommend fighting back with any object available. Remember that the bear may view you as prey. In this circumstance, people should attempt to look large and not run or turn away from the bear,” wrote NPS.