DURANGO, Colo. – A sheep herder in southwest Colorado is recovering after he was left severely injured following a bear attack early Tuesday morning – the first reported bear attack of the year.
The victim, a herder working for a permit holder of a sheep grazing allotment on the San Juan National Forest, was woken up at around 1 a.m. Tuesday by a disturbance involving his sheep and a black bear at a camp in the Weminuche Wilderness above Lemon Reservoir, located roughly 23 miles northeast of Durango.
The man told wildlife officials he fired a .30-30 caliber rifle at the bear before it attacked him, leaving him with bite wounds to his head as well as to his left hand and arm. Severe lacerations were also found in his left hip and the man suffered scratches on his back, officials said.
Following the attack, the man was able to crawl to his tent and contact his cousin, wildlife officials said. Emergency services were summoned to airlift him to Mercy Regional Medical Center, where CPW collected DNA samples from the man. He was soon flown to Grand Junction for surgery.
CPW was notified of the attack at 4 a.m. Tuesday and three wildlife officers were at the Transfer Park trailhead and on scene of the camp near the Burnt Timber Trail by 8:30 a.m., officials said in a news release.
“They quickly discovered a blood trail, the victim’s rifle and collected multiple DNA samples from the attack scene. CPW also discovered two dead sheep at the site with wounds consistent with bear depredation,” a CPW official said in a news release Wednesday.
Officers began searching for the bear with the help of an agent and a team of dogs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), as they were unsure if it had been hit by any of the shots from the man’s rifle.
The dog team arrived at the scene at around 5 p.m. and caught a scent trail on the south side of the creek drainage, where they were “immediately in pursuit of a bear suspected in the attack,” officials said.
“The hounds pursued the bear to the Florida River, and CPW officers followed in steep and treacherous terrain following the GPS signal from the collars of the dogs,” CPW officials said in their release.
Shortly before 11 p.m., the APHIS agent shot and killed the bear.
Under CPW policy, the bear had to be euthanized as contact between a bear and a human is classified as an attack.
“This is a difficult part of the job,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager Adrian Archuleta. “But when it comes to injuries to humans as a result of a predator attack, human health and safety is our top priority.”
CPW officers inspected the bear, which was estimated to be approximately an 8-year-old boar (male) and weighing an estimated 250 pounds. The bear had wounds in the chest area, but officers were unable to determine if they were gunshot wounds fired by the victim.
CPW collected evidence from the bear and several DNA samples that were sent to the CPW Wildlife Health Lab in Fort Collins for testing to compare it with samples collected at the attack scene. CPW did discover sheep wool in the bear’s stomach contents, officials said.
As part of CPW’s testing, the bear will be checked for disease such as rabies because the victim was bitten by the animal.
“Until we get results back from the lab regarding DNA testing, we can’t 100% confirm that this is the offending bear,” Archuleta said. “But based on the information we have at this point, we feel confident that it is the offending bear.”
This is also the first reported bear attack in La Plata County since April 2021.