DNA results confirm euthanized bear did not attack Ohio teen at Smokies

Gabriel and Greg Alexander

GATLINBURG (WATE) – Park rangers at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park received DNA results that show the bear euthanized after an attack on an Ohio teen, is not the same bear that attacked him.

Gabriel Alexander,16, was pulled from his hammock while camping with his father in the Hazel Creek section of the park on June 6. He was seriously injured by the bear.

Following the attack, park rangers set up an action plan to clear the area to begin an investigation and to collect forensic evidence. Bear hair and saliva from the victim’s equipment was collected to be used for DNA analysis. Park rangers also set up cameras, traps, and conducted foot patrols.

The following day, wildlife biologists shot a bear near campsite 84, but the bear ran off after the shots were fired. Biologists said they were unable to confirm whether the bear had been struck. On June 8, a bear was caught in a culvert trap set up at campsite 84. Biologists euthanized the bear and collected a DNA sample from the bear.

A DNA analysis of both bears show that they were two different males.

“Due to the extreme seriousness of the bear attack and threat to human safety, we responded swiftly to secure the safety of hikers in the backcountry,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Though extremely rare and regrettable, we recognize that an uninvolved bear was euthanized through this process and we will be examining new procedures that may allow us to quickly use DNA analysis to correctly identify bears responsible for predatory attacks in the future.”

This is the first time in history of managing bear populations in the park where wildlife biologists have had access to a lab capable of processing DNA samples in a timely manner to be of use in a bear attack, according the park officials.

Park rangers believe the bear that was shot is likey dead as no bear activity at campsite 84 has been observed since June 8 despite extensive search efforts.

This portion of the park will be closed as park staff continue the search and investigation.

For more information on what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, please visit the park website. To report a bear incident, please call 865-436-1230.

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