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Virginia agency kills wrong bear following attack on hiker

Wrong black bear killed in Douthat State Park Virginia
After a hiker was attacked two weeks ago at Douthat State Park in Virginia, officials accidentally euthanized the wrong bear. Photo: sonja39/Twenty20

Following an attack by a black bear on a hiker in a Virginian state park two weeks ago, state officials set out to euthanize the attacking bear. There’s just one problem: they killed the wrong bear.

According to DNA reports released yesterday, the black bear that was killed by wildlife authorities in Douthat State Park was not the same one that twice bit local hiker Laurie Cooksey, as she hiked the park with her two sons and daughter on August 8.

Cooksey told the Richmond Times-Dispatch she was attacked by an adult black bear, after unintentionally coming upon it on a remote trail in Douthat, and that almost instantly, the bear charged and attacked her without warning. The attack left Cooksey with 14 stitches in her back and 14 in her leg, and Lee Walker, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, labeled it an unprovoked attack and “the first of its kind in Virginia state parks."

As a result, the following morning, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation law enforcement officers used a pack of hunting dogs to track and fatally shoot what they believed to be the offending black bear.

However, as reports yesterday showed, DNA taken from the bear they killed failed to match the DNA left on Cooksey’s clothes from the attack.

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Following the negative test results, Walker said it would be “literally impossible” to resume the search for the attacking bear with any certainty nearly two weeks after the incident, and that tracking bears isn’t a foolproof science.

Laurie Cooksey and family before black bear attack wrong bear
A photo of Laurie Cooksey and her family taken minutes before the attack. Photo: Cooksey family

"You're never 100 percent sure [when tracking a bear],” Walker told the Times-Dispatch following the negative test results. “There's never a way to be 100 percent sure."

And while Cooksey said she’s, “sad they got the wrong bear", that hasn’t stopped her from facing Internet scorn and phone calls to her home from animal activists claiming she separated a mother bear from her cubs, despite there being no evidence to indicate that.

The news of the blunder by Virginia officials comes just one week after a mother grizzly bear was controversially killed in Yellowstone National Park following a fatal attack on a local 63-year-old hikern. In that instance the decision to kill the 20-year-old grizzly, nicknamed Blaze by park officials, was made because Blaze was observed eating and storing the body of the hiker she killed, behavior uncommon for grizzlies.

Still, Blaze’s killing generated controversy nonetheless.

Over 140,000 users signed a Care2 online petition to save Blaze’s life and spare her two cubs from being sent to the Toledo Zoo. And, according to National Geographic, the decision left Yellowstone park superintendent Dan Wenk with a torrent of voicemails and e-mails calling him a “jack-booted executioner” among other things.

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