Lifestyle & Human Interest

Colorado Woman Found Dead After First Reported Fatal Bear Attack in 12 Years


On Friday morning, a 39-year-old woman went for a hike in Durango, Colorado, with her two dogs. Hours later, her boyfriend noticed that the dogs had come home — but she never did.

Her boyfriend found her body on private property along Highway 550 and called 911.

Based on the state of the woman’s body and the type of damage it bore, along with the immediate presence of bear droppings and hair, authorities suspected bears were at fault.

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Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers and tracking dogs located three black bears nearby, a 10-year-old female (“sow”) and two yearlings. All three were euthanized and examined.

“A Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) pathologist found human remains inside the stomachs of a sow and her yearling bear that CPW wildlife officers suspect of killing and eating a 39-year-old woman Friday north of Durango,” a Sunday CPW release read.

The bears appeared to be in good condition and to be healthy and disease-free, but further tests (including testing for rabies) are underway.

“Whenever an animal is euthanized, we receive many questions about why that action was necessary,” CPW Director Dan Prenzlow said.

“Our responsibilities to the natural resources of the state are many, but we have no more important duty than to manage these resources in a manner that keeps Coloradans and our visitors safe. Euthanizing wildlife is never an action our officers take lightly, but we have an obligation to prevent additional avoidable harm.”

Putting the bears down may seem extreme to some people, but according to CPW Southwest Region Manager Cory Chick, it was a necessary evil.

“Once a bear injures or consumes humans, we will not risk the chance that this could happen to someone else,” Chick said. “We humanely euthanize that bear because of the severity of the incident.

“Bears will return to a food source over and over. A bear that loses its fear of humans is a dangerous animal. And this sow was teaching its yearlings that humans were a source of food, not something to fear and avoid.”

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Chick reminded people that the wild is a dangerous place for many reasons, and he urged people not to blame the woman who died.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the boyfriend, family and friends of the woman we lost in this tragic event,” he said. “We cannot determine with exact certainty how or why this attack took place, but it is important for the public not to cast blame on this woman for the unfortunate and tragic event.

“There are inherent risks anyone takes when venturing outdoors. That could be from wildlife, the landscape, weather events or other circumstances one cannot plan for.”

The last official recorded death by a bear attack in Colorado was in 2009, when a woman, 74, was feeding bears through her fence — an illegal activity that unfortunately ended in death.

The woman found dead on Friday, whose identity has not been released, is due to be examined by a La Plata County coroner Tuesday to determine the official cause of death. The dogs were not injured.

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