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Colorado May Have Just Had Its First Fatal Bear Attack in More Than a Decade

Wildlife officials are investigating after the death of a 39-year-old woman in Durango.

A Colorado woman died on Friday in what wildlife officials believe is the first fatal bear attack to take place in Colorado since 2009.

In a press release, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) said that it believed the victim, a 39-year-old woman, took her dogs out on a walk near her home in Durango on the morning of April 30. When her boyfriend returned home at 8:30 that night, he said he discovered the two dogs outside their house, but couldn’t locate her. After searching the area for about an hour, he discovered her body, prompting him to call 911. Responding wildlife officers discovered “signs of consumption,” as well as bear scat and hair around the body.

The agency called in help from the La Plata County Sheriff’s office, as well as U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services. A dog team from the latter agency located a female black bear along with two yearlings nearby. After killing the bears, CPW sent their bodies to its lab in Fort Collins for a necropsy; a pathologist working for the agency has since confirmed that two out of the three bears had human remains in their stomachs. DNA evidence from the scene went to a laboratory in Wyoming run by that state’s wildlife department to confirm that it was a match with the dead bears.

Researchers say many bear attacks begin as confrontations between the animals and pet dogs. Following the fatal mauling of a woman in Canada who was attacked while searching for her lost dogs in 2019, Lynn Rogers, founder of the North American Bear Center, told ABC News that a “disproportionate number” of bear attacks are linked to canines.

If confirmed, the fatal attack would be Colorado’s first since 2009, when a male black bear killed and partially ate Donna Munson, 74, at her home near Ouray. Investigating deputies killed another black bear near Munson’s yard that had lost its fear of people and begun exhibiting “aggressive” behavior. Authorities later determined that Munson had been feeding bears through her fence.

“Bear attacks are extremely rare,” Cory Chick, CPW Southwest Region manager, said in the release. “This is a tragic event and a sad reminder that bears are wild and potentially dangerous. Out of an abundance of caution, the bears were removed for public safety. We ask the public to report any encounter with an aggressive bear to CPW.”