On July 6, 2021, a woman camping in northwestern Montana was pulled from her tent and killed by a grizzly bear — an incident that received national news coverage and prompted wildlife officials to urge outdoor enthusiasts to use best practices when recreating in the backcountry.
As of this writing, media reports identified the woman as 65-year-old Leah Davis Lokan of Chico California. Snopes contacted the Powell County Sheriff’s Office to confirm these details.
The woman was on a bicycle trip and was camping in Ovando, a small town of fewer than 100 residents located in the heart of northwest Montana’s “bear country.” Initial reports incorrectly stated that the woman was bicycling at the time of the incident.
Additional details were released late on the evening of July 7 that described the circumstances of the attack. According to wildlife officials, the bear entered town Tuesday morning and came to an area near the local post office where the woman was camping at about 3 a.m. Another couple in her group was sleeping in a tent nearby. Initially, the bear woke up the campers but then ran away. After the disturbance, the three individuals removed food from their tens, secured it, and went back to bed.
Fifteen minutes later, the bear was captured by a video camera at a local business less than a block away. At 3:30 a.m., the two people in the tent near the victim were woken up by sounds of the attack and subsequently sprayed the bear with bear spray. At some point in the night, it is believed that the same bear broke into a chicken coop in town and ate several chickens.
Judging pawprints and behavior, experts believed the bear was likely a male weighing around 400 pounds.
In a July 9 Facebook post, the sheriff’s office reported following up on several bear sightings in the area of the attack, including a “report from a resident who came home and found her door ripped off and large claw marks” present. A short time later, a male grizzly bear believed to be associated with the fatal attack was killed in the area,” wrote the sheriff’s office.
But in a phone interview with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), a spokesperson with the agency told Snopes that while it is true that a bear was killed in the area, a grizzly bear expert is unable to determine whether there is any connection to the door incident.
“Wildlife officials shot and killed a grizzly bear early Friday morning less than two miles from Ovando, where a woman was killed in a grizzly bear attack early Tuesday morning,” wrote FWP in a news release. “The bear was killed at the scene of a second chicken coop raid that was very similar in nature to the one that happened in Ovando the night of the fatal attack.”
The second chicken coop raid occurred about two days after the attack in Ovando. FWP specialists set a trap and specialists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture used night vision technology to monitor the trap and eventually aid in shooting the bear.
A collaborative team that includes the local county sheriff’s office and FWP said they will be using DNA from the bear that was killed and samples collected at the scene of the attack to positively identify the animal. FWP told Snopes that samples were not taken from the door or claw marks reported by the Powell County Sheriff’s Office. We will continue to update this article as more information becomes available.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the victim of the bear attack this morning in Ovando,” wrote the Powell County Sheriff’s Office in a Facebook post on July 6. “Many thanks to the residents that assisted in the search and pulled together to support the first responders, members of the Powell County Sheriff’s Office and Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) as we processed the scene and continued searching for the bear.”
The attack marks the second this year within Big Sky Country after a backcountry guide was mauled outside of West Yellowstone in the south-central part of the state. In recent years, grizzly bear populations have expanded due to the 1975 federal protections offered under the Endangered Species Act. Throughout summer, grizzlies prepare for their winter hibernation by foraging on berries and, in some cases, human garbage, increasing the likelihood that they may come into contact with humans recreating outside in the warmer months. A 2020 report published by the FWP concluded that just over half of human-grizzly conflicts involved unnatural foods like garbage, feed or harvested grain. Population estimates suggest that there are likely around 1,000 grizzly bears in the broader Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, a more than 8,900-square-mile area that encompasses northwestern Montana and includes Ovando.