Man Found Dead Last Year in Great Smoky Mountains was Killed by Bear, Park Says

Last year, two hikers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were horrified when they discovered a bear eating human remains near an empty campsite. The bear was quickly euthanized by park officials; however, the cause of death remained undetermined. Thursday, the National Park Service (NPS) finally announced that the man was most likely killed by the bear.

As previously reported by Newsweek, the hikers first spotted an empty campsite near the Hazel Creek Trail. When they looked farther along the creek, they noticed a bear feasting on what appeared to be a human body. Naturally, they fled to an area with cell service where they could report what they had seen.

When park rangers and other wildlife officials arrived at the scene, they, too, saw the bear eating the remains. Out of an abundance of caution, they decided to euthanize the bear. The victim was later identified as 43-year-old Patrick Madura.

At the time, park officials could not determine if the bear had killed Madura, or if the bear decided to scavenge on his remains after encountering his already dead body. To discover what happened, a formal investigation was launched.

On Thursday, nearly a year after Madura was found, NPS announced its findings. In a statement obtained by Newsweek, NPS stated Madura was killed "likely due to trauma caused by a bear."

According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, the autopsy stated Madura's body had "multiple puncture wounds involving the skin consistent with bear claw and/or bite marks."

"The cause of death is lacerated puncture wounds and blunt trauma of the head, probable neck, torso and extremities," the study concluded.

Caitlin Worth, a spokesperson for NPS, told Newsweek Madura's death is the second bear fatality in the park's history. The first fatality was that of Glenda Ann Bradley, 50, who was attacked and killed by a 112-pound female black bear in May 2000. The attack occurred at the intersection of Little River and Goshen Prong Trails.

In June, a 16-year-old girl was attacked by a bear while she slept in her hammock on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The bear was euthanized, and the girl was flown to a nearby hospital, where she was last reported to be in stable condition.

Though the girl did not do anything to provoke the attack, experts encourage all guests to sleep inside tents and to follow all food storage regulations.

"Most of the 1,900 bears in the park are healthy and exhibit wild, natural behavior. At the same time, people are able to observe them in their natural habitat with rare incidents of personal injury or damage to property," Worth said. "While any black bear attack or physical contact with humans is very rare in the Smokies, most incidents over the past 20 years have involved a camper sleeping out in the open—either in a hammock or on the ground.

"We strongly believe that hikers and backpackers following all food storage regulations have a reasonable expectation of safety when hiking and camping in the backcountry," she continued.

In the park's official statement, Bill Stiver, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist, said: "Bears are an iconic symbol in the Smokies, but they are also dangerous wild animals, and their behavior is sometimes unpredictable. 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."

If attacked, the park encourages campers to fight back "with any object available," and recommends against turning away from the bear.

Black bear
A man who died last year in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was determined to have died after likely being attacked by a bear. The bear, which was witnessed eating human remains, was quickly euthanized. George Rose / Contributor/Getty