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Yellowstone hiker mourned after first grizzly killing in 25 years

A female grizzly bear has killed a hiker in the first fatal mauling in Yellowstone Park for 25 years, officials said yesterday.

The victim was walking with his wife on a trail a mile from a village deep in the park when the pair apparently surprised the grizzly with her cubs. The couple turned and began to walk away but the female grizzly chased them and bit and clawed the 57-year-old hiker to death, said a park spokesman, Al Nash.

When the bear went for the man's wife, she dropped to the ground, officials said. The bear lifted her up by the pack on her back, then dropped her and walked off.

The woman, who escaped relatively unscathed, tried to call for help on her mobile phone but was unable to get a signal. Her shouts for help were heard by hikers who came to help.

While it was the park's first fatal grizzly mauling since 1986, it was the third in the region in just over a year as the endangered grizzlies roam in the same wild landscape as the estimated 3.6 million visitors to the park last year. A predatory bear was captured and put down last year after it rampaged through a campsite outside the park's boundaries. The bear pulled three people from different tents, killing one man and injuring two others. Authorities described that attack as very rare.

Park officials at Yellowstone said they thought they had identified the bear behind Wednesday's attack but would not trap it. "This is not a bear that has had a history of seeking out humans," said Mr Nash.

"When we have so-called problem bears who repeatedly show up in camp areas, we will sometimes dart them, tag them and relocate them.

"This apparently was an issue of a bear that was making a defensive attack, a female with cubs that may have felt trapped."

Park authorities say about 600 grizzly bears roam the 2.2 million acres of the park and surrounding wildlands. They can grow to more than 6ft and 44 stone. Yellowstone grizzlies were taken off the endangered list by the Bush administration in 2007 but were put back on two years later because of a decline in the trees on which they feed.

Officials closed off the camping grounds and trails near the scene of the attack close to a campers' centre at Canyon Village, just a few days after the peak tourist weekend.

"This is a wild and natural park," Diane Shober, director of the state Wyoming Travel and Tourism agency told the Associated Press. "At the same time, the likelihood of this happening again is small."