Last month at a church picnic outside of Anchorage, Alaska, Jesus Mabalot thought he’d go for a bike ride. Never mind that he’d downed a few drinks and the trail he was about to take was known to be frequented by black bears (as most places in the Anchorage vicinity are). He threw some barbecue from the picnic into his backpack, figuring he might get hungry on the way.
Turns out, it was a lucky day for the black bear Mabalot ran into on the trail. Upon seeing the animal, Mabalot threw it a piece of barbecue. According to Alaska Fish and Wildlife spokesman Ken Marsh, when the bear ate the meat, Mabalot offered more. But this time, “[The bear] went kind of ballistic,” Beth Ispen, spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers, told the Anchorage Daily News.
According to Marsh, getting the story out of Mabalot was difficult, because in addition to slurring his words, he also had a “language barrier.” But Troopers were able to decipher that after the second helping of meat, the bear decided it wanted a piece of Mabalot. It attacked him, puncturing the skin along his jaw and leaving scratch marks on his back. Someone alerted park rangers, who later found Mabalot washing his bloodied body at a campground. “He wasn’t terribly coherent,” Marsh told ABC News. “He was unsure of where the attack actually happened.”
ADN reports that authorities are still trying to figure out why the bear attacked Mabalot. But because Mabalot fed the bear, he’s been issued a citation. According to trooper spokesperson Megan Peters, citations for feeding a wild animal normally run around $300. But take bear—or any other animal—feeding to the lengths another Alaska resident named Charlie Vandergaw did back in the early 2000s, and you’ll get in much bigger trouble.
From his front yard, Vandergaw, now in his 70s, used to bait black bears and grizzlies with dog food. According to the Anchorage Daily News, “he once hosted the largest gathering of semi-tame bears” at his homestead west of Anchorage. For more than 20 years, he lured them to the retreat he called “Bear Haven.” His goodies: “dog food, cookies, and other treats to train them to live with people like dogs.” According to the ADN, his attorney said Vandergaw did it because “‘he loved the bears and wanted to demonstrate that they could live in harmony with man.” But in 2010, just after Animal Planet approached him and started filming a weekly segment called “Stranger Among Bears,” he pleaded guilty to eight counts of illegally feeding bears in exchange for the dismissal of 12 others and an agreement to hold his fine between $20,000 and $72,000.
Vandergaw now runs a Facebook page dedicated to honoring (and protecting) animals in danger. He has told various media outlets that he still wishes he could run Bear Haven. But even back in his heyday, some called him the next “Grizzly Man” (based on the ill-fated subject of Werner Herzog’s 2005 documentary). No one knows what Vandergaw would think about the bear that had the run-in with Mabalot, but Ken Marsh says, “Any fed bear is a dangerous bear because of how quickly they become habituated to humans.”
The black bear that attacked Mabalot may be the exception, because as far as Marsh knows, it had generated no “prior complaints” or “complaints after the attack.” But it may be the exception in a state where vast numbers of people commingle with bears.
According to Marsh, Fish and Wildlife have no “hard number” of black and grizzlies that populate Anchorage city limits, because “they’re a moving target.” He does say that the city has several “resident bears,” like the one that lives in an upscale neighborhood in an area that abuts the Chugach Mountains. That bear was outfitted with a video camera on a collar that’s designed to fall off over time.
The collar recently fell off, and the camera footage showed the bear eating a healthy diet of, among other things, blueberries, skunk cabbage, grasses, clover, and birds’ eggs.