Two bears were euthanized earlier this month after a man was attacked at a campground south of Pagosa Springs.
Matt Thorpe, wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said a man from out of state planned to stay at a private campground near the Blanco River on July 2. Shortly after midnight, the man heard something outside his tent. Thinking it could be a bear, he sat quietly.
“The next thing he knows, the bear claws in and bites him,” Thorpe said.
The man thought the best course of action was to remain quiet, but the bear bit him two more times. He then started making noise and the bear ran off, Thorpe said.
The attack was first reported in Thursday’s edition of The Pagosa Springs Sun.
The man, with help of the campground owner, then went to a hospital in Pagosa Springs for treatment. He suffered injuries from claw marks and light punctures but did not require stitches.
“It’s pretty miraculous, really, based on the other injuries I’ve seen,” Thorpe said. “Usually, (injuries have) been more intense than what he experienced.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers were alerted of the situation and showed up at the campground with houndsmen from U.S. Wildlife Services around 5 a.m. July 3.
“The dogs immediately started barking that they picked up the scent of the bear,” Thorpe said.
Wildlife officers found hair from the bear and tracks at the campsite. Based on the evidence, it appeared the bear was brown in color and an adult.
The dogs took off after the bear, but at some point during the chase, the dogs split and pursued two different tracks.
The two bears, each about 200 pounds, had been tracked down separately by that afternoon, and because they both matched the description of the animal that attacked the man, both were euthanized out of an abundance of caution, Thorpe said. It was also important to get the right bear, he said, to test for rabies.
“Based on the way the dogs went after the track, either one of them could have been the offender,” he said.
Samples were taken from both bears to match them with the hair and saliva collected at the scene of the attack and sent to a lab at the University of Wyoming on July 3 for DNA testing.
Because of the risk to public safety, and the possibility the victim could be infected, technicians at the lab came in on the Fourth of July holiday to conduct the test. In the meantime, CPW officers set up a bear trap at the campsite in case neither bear killed was the attacker.
“It was very important for us to know we got the right bear,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe said that day, wildlife officers confirmed the second bear shot was the attacker. Test results the next day, July 5, confirmed the animal did not have rabies or any other disease.
“It’s unfortunate two bears were euthanized, but that’s what it took to get this case solved and the victim some closure,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe said wildlife officers aren’t quite sure what prompted the bear to attack. The camp was clean and had bear boxes for people to store food. The man didn’t have food in his tent, but he did have toothpaste, which could have attracted the bear.
“Upon examination, the bear had bird feed in its stomach, so it’s easy to speculate the bear had been around homes,” he said. “But this was not a predatory attack. It probably smelled something that attracted it and went to check it out.”
Thorpe said bear attacks are not common. The last reported attack in Southwest Colorado happened in 2015 in Durango when a bear bit two people camping in a homeless camp near the Durango Tech Center, which was strewn with trash. That bear, too, was euthanized.