ALASKA People question truth of bear-attack story



Park officials have found no sign of the reported encounter.
ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS
Roberto Cataldo is headed home to Italy, and officials at Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve are preparing to reopen a backcountry area near Kantishna where the 29-year-old adventurer reported fighting off a grizzly with an ice ax earlier this month.
A lot of people are still wondering exactly what happened Aug. 2 when Cataldo said he drove off a grizzly by burying the point of an ice ax in its back.
Wildlife photographer Bill Watkins has posted photographs of an encounter between Cataldo and another bear on his Web site and offered his opinion as a veteran bear watcher on how the encounter could have been avoided.
Watkins also has reported that he met Cataldo the day after the Italian claimed to have made contact with the bear near Kantishna.
Report of attack
"She lightly clawed his left arm, tearing his blue, long-sleeve undershirt, leaving him with superficial scratches," he wrote. "He turned and hit the bear with his ice axe, burying it into her shoulder. She reared back and roared, and then took off with her cubs with the ice axe still buried into her shoulder."
That's pretty much the same story Cataldo later told park officials, according to Denali ranger Pat Navaille and bear biologist Pat Owen.
Yet despite overflights and ground patrols of the area where the incident was reported to have taken place, they have found no sign of a bear with an ice ax in its back, or an ax, or even an obviously injured sow with spring cubs, as reported by Cataldo.
"I don't know what happened," Navaille said. "I think no one really knows other than him and possibly a bear."
Navaille said Cataldo showed him an ice ax said to be identical to the one stuck in the bear. Cataldo even described how he struck the animal and buried the ax right up to its head.
"There were some minor inconsistencies" as Cataldo told the story to various people, Navaille said, but those might have been due to difficulties in translation. No park staffers speak Italian, and Cataldo's English, though reportedly good, is less than perfect.
Possible it happened
It is perfectly possible that everything happened as Cataldo reported and that the bear ran off with the ice ax stuck in its back, the ranger said. The ax could have fallen out later to be lost forever in the thick brush around Kantishna, and the bear could be healed by now.
No dead bears have turned up in the area.
Owen said the rips she saw in Cataldo's shirt and the scabbed-over scratches on his arm could well have been made by a grizzly.
If Cataldo was making this story up, as some believe, why would he go to all the trouble of filling out an emergency-report form at the deserted ranger cabin at Wonder Lake, Navaille wondered.
If he just wanted a tale to tell, the ranger said, wouldn't he simply go find people and start telling it?
Instead, Navaille said, Cataldo stopped at the cabin to write down an account of what happened before heading back along the park road to the Eielson Visitor Center.

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