Michael Soltis never returned from a hike in the Alaskan wilderness this week, and search crews have now found the body of the man they believe was killed by a grizzly bear, and the search for his body almost led to another death.
The 44-year-old disappeared on Monday after leaving for a hike in a wooded area in Anchorage. As the New York Post reported, a volunteer who was searching for Soltis came under attack by another grizzly bear around the area where Soltis had gone missing.
Police believe that the grizzly was the same one that killed Soltis, and was attacking the search party member because she had gotten too close to the hiker’s dead body.
“Shortly after the attack, officers entered the woods to search for the bear,” the department said in a statement, via ABC News. “It is at that time they located missing person Michael Soltis who died as a result of a bear attack. It appears the brown bear was protecting the body when it attacked a member of the search party.”
Authorities were able to remove the Michael Soltis’ body, and are now investigating whether the animal attacked on its own or whether the hiker happened upon the animal and made it feel threatened, prompting it to attack.
“A person could have tripped and fell or had a medical condition,” Ken Marsh, a spokesman for Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told the Associated Press. “Until a full investigation and medical examination is done, I don’t know that we can say necessarily, for sure, 100 percent, the cause of death.”
The bear attack came nearly one month after a hiker in Washington state was killed by a cougar. As KIRO-TV reported, two people were hiking in a wooded area when they came under attack by the animal. The cougar killed one of the hikers, and first responders found the animal still standing over the victim’s body. Another hiker was taken to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.
Local wildlife experts said they have seen more aggression from cougars as humans continue to encroach on their natural habitat, building new homes and businesses in what had traditionally been their domain. They warned that there could be more attacks in the future if the animal’s natural habitat continued to blend into suburban sprawl.
After the death of Michael Soltis, authorities in Alaska have also notices to other hikers to beware of bears.