In the early morning hours of Tuesday, July 11, a black bear attacked a man who was working as a sheep herder in the San Juan National Forest of southwestern Colorado, about 23 miles northeast of Durango. According to a Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) press release issued yesterday evening, the man survived and was treated for head wounds and other severe lacerations. The bear was tracked down and killed by a federal agent less than 24 hours after the attack.
The 35-year-old herder was working for a permit holder of a sheep grazing allotment in the nearly 500,000-acre Weminuche Wilderness Area when the bear attacked him. It bit him on the head and left additional wounds on his left arm and hand, CPW said. It also left deep cuts on his left hip and scratches on his back.
The herder told CPW agents that he was awoken by the sounds of the bear preying on his sheep around 1 a.m. He fired a .30-30 rifle in response to the attack before the bruin charged and mauled him. “This is an unfortunate incident and we are thankful the victim was able to contact help to get emergency services deployed and that he was able to be extracted to receive necessary medical care,” CPW Area Wildlife Manager Adrian Archuleta said in the press release.
In the aftermath of the attack, the man managed to crawl to his tent and call his cousin for help. An airlift was summoned to the scene, and he was transported to the Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango. During his initial treatment, CPW agents collected a DNA sample that they’d later use in their exhaustive hunt for the problem bear. The man was then transported to Grand Junction for surgery.
“CPW was notified of the attack at 4 a.m., 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.,” the press release goes on to state. “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.”
The three CPW officers on the scene called on the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and an APHIS agent arrived with a team of hounds around 5 p.m. The hounds quickly picked up a scent and led the officers up a creek drainage in pursuit of the bear. They followed the hounds through “steep, treacherous terrain” before a GPS signal on one of the dog’s collars led them to the Florida River where, at 10:53 p.m., the APHIS agent shot and killed the bear.
It was an eight-year-old boar black bear weighing approximately 250 pounds, CPW reports. After killing the bear, the agents discovered sheep’s wool in the animal’s stomach. ““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.”