The black bear found aggressively guarding a man’s body in September was not rabid, according to a necropsy performed the day it was euthanized by Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials.
The park has yet to receive the autopsy for William Lee Hill Jr., the 30-year-old man who was found dead. A cause of death has not yet been determined.
The investigation is still open, a park spokeswoman confirmed.
“There really wasn’t any evidence that this bear had ‘anything wrong with it,’” Ed Ramsay, the clinician overseeing the necropsy, wrote in an email to a park biologist.
The bear was estimated to be 3 years old when it died. It weighed approximately 155 pounds.
Rabies is extremely rare in black bears, but rumors had emerged that rabies might be a factor in the case. At least one other media outlet has inquired to park officials about it.
Hill was found two miles north of Cades Cove, about a ½-mile off Rich Mountain Road and less than a mile from a residential area outside the park.
Hill and a companion had been in the park over the Sept. 9 weekend looking for ginseng, a profitable medicinal herb that is illegal to harvest from the park. The two men arrived Friday, Sept. 7, and became separated during the day, and Hill’s companion did not hear from him afterwards. Hill was reported missing to park officials two days later, and park rangers began searching that night.
He was found Sept. 11.
An adult black bear exhibited “aggressive behaviors” over the course of several hours as rangers worked to recover Hill’s body. Wildlife biologists trapped the bear and recovered human DNA from it.
American black bears are scavengers, but attacks on humans are rare. A park spokeswoman said five people have been attacked by black bears in the park since 2000, although there have been other incidents in which a black bear behaved in a predatory way but did not attack.