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Fatal bear attacks are rare in Colorado, but possible

At least 5 have been killed by bears since 1934
Fatal bear attacks are rare in Colorado, but possible
Posted at 1:09 PM, Jun 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-06 15:26:37-04

DENVER — A family camping in Larimer County was attacked by a bear Tuesday night. The bear trampled their tent, but luckily no one was seriously injured.

The Larimer County incident comes nearly a month after a 5-year-old Mesa County girl was attacked by a bear.

Kimberly Cyr was attacked after she had gone outside her East Orchard Mesa home around 2:30 a.m. to investigate a noise.

Kimberly was hospitalized for several days but fully recovered from her injuries. The bear responsible for the attack was tracked down and killed by wildlife officers.

But not all bear attacks in Colorado have fared so well for the victims. Fatal attacks, while rare, have occurred in the state.

In Colorado, at least five people have been killed by bear attacks, the last one happened nearly a decade ago on the Western Slope.

Donna Munson, 74, was killed near Ouray on August 6, 2009.

The Ouray County woman, whose body was found eaten by a bear, was attacked and killed by that same bear after she attempted to help a smaller bear that had been hurt in a fight.

Sheriff's investigators said that the bear "clubbed" her through the wire fence that she had built around her porch, rendering her unconscious.

Days later, a Division of Wildlife investigator shot and killed the bear — a 400-pound male bear.

A necropsy on the bear revealed human tissue as well as remnants of a shirt that Munson was wearing.

Sixteen years before Munson’s death, a 24-year-old man was killed by a bear in Fremont County. On August 10, 1993, a bear entered Colin McClelland’s trailer and attacked him.

McClelland died from his injuries. The bear in the attack was shot and killed by wildlife officers.

On July 25, 1971, a camper was attacked and killed by a bear. John Richardson, 31, was camping near Rocky Mountain National Park when the attack occurred.

The only fatal bear attack to occur in the city of Denver happened at the Denver Zoo on July 18, 1934.

Charles Wyman, 76, a zookeeper, was spraying down two bears with a water hose when he was attacked and killed. The two bears were shot.

How to stay safe in bear country

The vast majority of bears you'll see in Colorado are black bears, which are a species of bear. Black bears can be black, brown, cinnamon or even blonde.

Most of a bear's diet is fruits, nuts, plants, scavenged food and carcasses and fish, so they aren't particularly skilled hunters. 

Colorado black bears are active this time of year, and while they are not naturally aggressive, wildlife officials say people venturing into bear country need to know what to do if they encounter one.

The National Park Service offers the following tips to stay safe around bears in Colorado’s high country:

What Should I Do if I See a Bear?

Each bear and each experience is unique; there is no single strategy that will work in all situations and that guarantees safety. Most bear encounters end without injury. Following some basic guidelines may help to lessen the threat of danger. Your safety can depend on your ability to calm the bear.

Avoiding an Encounter

Keeping your distance and not surprising bears are some of the most important things you can do. Most bears will avoid humans if they hear them coming. Pay attention to your surroundings and make a special effort to be noticeable if you are in an area with known bear activity or a good food source, such as berry bushes.

Bear Encounters

Once a bear has noticed you and is paying attention to you, additional strategies can help prevent the situation from escalating.

  • Identify yourself by talking calmly so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. Remain still; stand your ground but slowly wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you as a human. It may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.
  • Stay calm and remember that most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone. Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Bears may also react defensively by woofing, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones; this will help you stay calmer, and it won't be threatening to the bear. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.
  • Pick up small children immediately.
  • Hike and travel in groups. Groups of people are usually noisier and smellier than a single person. Therefore, bears often become aware of groups of people at greater distances, and because of their cumulative size, groups are also intimidating to bears.
  • Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground).
  • Do NOT allow the bear access to your food. Getting your food will only encourage the bear and make the problem worse for others.
  • Do NOT drop your pack as it can provide protection for your back and prevent a bear from accessing your food.
  • If the bear is stationary, move away slowly and sideways; this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. Moving sideways is also non-threatening to bears. Do NOT run, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Bears can run as fast as a racehorse both uphill and down. Like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. Do NOT climb a tree. Both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees.
  • Leave the area or take a detour. If this is impossible, wait until the bear moves away. Always leave the bear an escape route.
  • Be especially cautious if you see a female with cubs; never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach them. The chances of an attack escalate greatly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs.

Bear Attacks

Bear attacks are rare; most bears are only interested in protecting food, cubs, or their space. However, being mentally prepared can help you have the most effective reaction. Every situation is different, but below are guidelines on how brown bear attacks can differ from black bear attacks. Help protect others by reporting all bear incidents to a park ranger immediately. Above all, keep your distance from bears!

  • Brown/Grizzly Bears: If you are attacked by a brown/grizzly bear, leave your pack on and PLAY DEAD. Lay flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks. However, if the attack persists, fight back vigorously. Use whatever you have at hand to hit the bear in the face.
  • Black Bears: If you are attacked by a black bear, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. Try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to fight back using any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear's face and muzzle.

If any bear attacks you in your tent, or stalks you and then attacks, do NOT play dead—fight back! This kind of attack is very rare, but can be serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and sees you as prey.

Bear Pepper Spray

Bear pepper spray can be an important thing to carry when exploring the back country. It is used defensively to stop an aggressive, charging, or attacking bear. Although it’s used in the same manner you would use mace on an attacking person, bear pepper spray and human pepper spray are not the same. Make sure you select an EPA approved product that is specifically designed to stop aggressive bears. It is not a repellent so do not apply to your body or equipment.