(TMU) – A group of people hiking through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park had a gut-wrenching end to their trek when they stumbled on a bear feasting upon a man’s bodily remains.
Hikers in the North Carolina portion of the national park were making their way through Hazel Creek Trail, which lies only a few miles from the border with Tennessee, when they passed a campsite and unoccupied tent that was eerily abandoned, reports the Charlotte Observer.
They eventually noticed scattered human remains strewn across a creek, along with a bear that was “scavenging in the area,” according to a park news release.
The hikers “quickly left” to get cell phone coverage and report the grisly scene to local authorities, rangers said. They park rangers were notified just after 7 p.m. Friday.
“Staff arrived at campsite 82 shortly after midnight and confirmed the report of a deceased adult human male,” park officials said.
The rangers also saw a bear – likely the same one encountered by the hikers mere hours before – “actively scavenging on the remains” and dining on body parts.
They eventually euthanized the bear, but it remains unclear if the creature was the actual culprit for the death of the camper.
WVLT reports that the victim was later identified as Patrick Madura, 43, of Elgin, Illinois.
The portion of Hazel Creek lying between Cold Springs Gap Trail and Welch Ridge Trail forks has been shut down pending further notice as investigators continue to work at the scene. Backcountry Campsite 82, where the bodily remains were discovered, will also be closed.
Rangers are waiting for the coroner’s report before they move forward.
“When [rangers] arrived they were able to confirm it was an adult male that was deceased and bear actively scavenging on his remains,” park spokesperson Jamie Sanders said.
While the bear being put down may seem cruel, authorities argue that it’s necessary because one thing they don’t want is for bears to develop a taste for human flesh.
“Our wildlife biologists believe that once a bear has actively savaged on remains, they’ve gotten a food source, we do not ever want them to look at humans as a possible food source,” Sanders explained.
In September 2018, a Tennessee man’s body was also discovered being eaten by a bear in the Great Smoky Mountains. Investigators later found out that the man died from a methamphetamine overdose, not from a bear attack.
Rangers also said that the incident serves as a strong reminder of why bears should not be fed. Whenever humans are associated with food, there is a real threat to humans.
“It’s inherently dangerous to come and hike in bear country,” Sanders added. “Bears are wild animals. They are scavengers and they can be predators.”
One thing you definitely don’t want to do is have a picnic with a wild black bear and prepare sandwiches for it, as one family recently did in Maryland.
On the national park’s website, parkgoers are warned to not come within 50 feet of black bears, which are native to the region.
If a black bear is spotted “running toward you, making loud noises, or swatting the ground . . . Don’t run, but slowly back away, watching the bear,” the site explains. “Increase the distance between you and the bear. The bear will probably do the same.”
Authorities also advise people to make loud noises such as banging on pans or yelling if they encounter a black bear, in order to prevent any dangerous situation for both humans or the bear.