DENVER – A 5-year-old Colorado girl attacked by a black bear outside her home over the weekend was expected to recover thanks to the quick thinking of her mother, who scared the animal away, officials said Monday.
The unidentified girl was in good condition at a hospital. Wildlife officials announced they killed the bear believed to be responsible for the attack early Sunday in East Orchard Mesa, a semi-rural, unincorporated area near the city of Grand Junction.
Bear sightings are fairly common in the high-desert area, though it’s not their typical habitat. Because acorns and berries that bears typically rely on are doing well in the mountains where they usually live, officials suspect the animal hibernated locally and became accustomed to easily finding food near homes, from trash, livestock feed or grills.
The attack led officials to renew their call for residents to secure food sources and use bear-proof trash cans.
The girl’s mother told state wildlife officers that her daughter went outside around 2:30 a.m. after hearing noises she thought might be coming from her dog. The mother said she heard screaming and found her daughter being dragged by a large black bear. She told authorities that the bear dropped the girl after she yelled at it.
“Before the sun rose on the morning of Mother’s Day, she truly exemplified the love and courage of what it takes to be a mother and, because of those actions, her child is here today,” said J.T. Romatzke, regional manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Pediatric surgeon Charles Breaux Jr. told reporters Sunday that the bear apparently bit the girl on her back side but she didn’t have any injuries to her brain or organs or suffer any fractures. He said she received 77 external stitches and more internally.
Doctors expect the girl to “mend very well,” though doctors will monitor her to make sure she does not develop any infections or rabies, hospital spokeswoman Teri Cavanagh said Monday.
The 125-pound, approximately 2-year-old male bear suspected in the attack was shot by wildlife officers Sunday night as it was walking up to a home about a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) away from where the girl was attacked. Three traps were set to catch the bear, but officers killed it before the animal entered one.
Colorado has an estimated 17,000 to 20,000 bears, a population that’s considered robust in a state of 5.7 million people that also attracts many tourists. Every year, there are cases of hungry bears getting into cars and sometimes buildings to find food, especially during periods of drought.
Wildlife officials stress black bears are not out to hunt people but that conflicts, including attacks, can happen once bears get access to easy, calorie-rich human food and return for more.
Another bear was spotted about a half-mile from the girl’s home a week ago, Romatzke said. The area is nestled between the Gunnison and Colorado rivers, which provide corridors for migrating wildlife.
Wildlife officers are confident the bear they killed is the same one that attacked the girl based on its appearance and behavior, but authorities won’t know for sure until its body is analyzed. Results are expected within about a week.
The traps will remain in place in the meantime and state and federal wildlife officers, with the help of dogs, will keep searching the area for signs of additional bears.