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Human remains in dead black bear confirm Alaskan's cause of death

Craig Medred
Based on the human remains found in the stomach of a black bear killed near George Lake in the Alaska Interior last week, Alaska State Troopers say they have concluded the bear killed 64-year-old Robert Weaver. Loren Holmes photo

Based on the human remains found in the stomach of a black bear killed near George Lake in the Alaska Interior last week, Alaska State Troopers say they have concluded the bear killed 64-year-old Robert Weaver.

Troopers were called to the lake by Weaver's wife, Roberta, who reported her husband had been attacked by a bear. She fled to a cabin for safety.

First responders, airmen from Eielson Air Force Base, found no sign of a bear at the remote lake. But sometime after Alaska State Troopers took over the investigation, a trooper was approached by a bear that seemed to show an unusual lack of fear of humans.

He shot and killed the animal. It was sent to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Fairbanks where a state veterinarian and a biologist performed a necropsy.

As part of that process, the animal's stomach was removed and sent to the state medical examiner in Anchorage, who discovered the human remains and fabric.

'Older bear in fine condition'

Cathie Harms, the state wildlife biologist who participated in the necropsy, said the bear appeared healthy. There were no signs of disease, she said, and his coat was in good condition for an animal just coming out of hibernation.  

His teeth were worn, but all there. The wear is a normal sign of age. One of the bears tooth was pulled and sent to an Outside lab for aging and tissue samples were taken to check for disease.

But overall, Harms indicated that the bear was a wildlife biologist would have to call "an older bear in fine condition."

The fat still on his body, she said, would indicate the animal was in no immediate danger of starving to death, but that does not mean it wasn't very hungry. Hunger and starvation are not the same.

Black bear attacks on humans are rare, but noted bear biologist Stephen Herrero, a Canadian, has observed that occasional black bears -- especially in remote areas -- sometimes target humans as prey. The reasons are unclear.

Why did this one go after Robert Weaver? That may never be known. Spring did come late to the Delta Junction area near George Lake, as elsewhere in Alaska, and there had been little for bears emerging from winter to eat.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com