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Questions Loom After Colorado Woman Apparently Killed By Brown Bear

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Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers say there's no indication of how or why the apparent attack happened or even if the woman had a medical or other issue and the bears were scavengers.

Video Transcript

- A 39-year-old Colorado woman is dead after being attacked by a bear over the weekend. Now an autopsy tomorrow will determine the official cause of death. It happened after the woman had gone for a walk Friday evening North of Durango near county road 203 in Trimble Lane. Parks and Wildlife says the victim's boyfriend found her body sometime after 8:30 after he'd gotten home and she wasn't there.

While we have many bear encounters in Colorado, the fatal attacks are extremely rare. There have been only three deadly bear attacks on record in our state, one in 1971 in Grand Lake, 1993 in Cotopaxi, and the most recent 2009 in Ouray. Our Alan Gionet with more on this latest case. Alan, still a lot of questions about what led up to this woman's death.

ALAN GIONET: Well, necropsies on this 10-year-old sow and the two cubs, yearlings, shows human remains and plant material in two of the bears, but no evidence of having eaten trash. Now what happened with an encounter, or how it happened, or what ultimately occurred is still unclear. Or even if this woman somehow had a medical issue or something else and the bears were just scavengers. But unprovoked attacks can occur.

In Colorado's forests, many black bears live with little human contact. Wildlife conservationist David Neils records video of them living free.

DAVID NEILS: All animals will do what they can to minimize calorie loss while maximizing calorie gain.

ALAN GIONET: Meaning, seeking an easy meal. Bears don't hunt a great deal, sometimes very young deer or elk.

DAVID NEILS: Scavenging on carcasses that are left over by mountain lions from the wintertime. A bear isn't that fast to kill prey.

ALAN GIONET: The Durango bear was unknown to wildlife officers. It had not been tagged due to problem interactions. CBW's Kristin Cannon has investigated incidents before.

KRISTIN CANNON: Any kind of bear attack is really very rare.

ALAN GIONET: One stands out. An attack in Ward in Boulder County in 2017, a 19-year-old survived.

- The bear had a hold of my head and was dragging me across the ground.

KRISTIN CANNON: We felt based on the behavior that it was a predatory attack, that this bear attacked that young man in order to kill and eat him.

ALAN GIONET: Black bears with cubs, unlike grizzlies she says, are not typically aggressive.

KRISTIN CANNON: When they feel threatened, they're more likely to run away or go up a tree. They're more likely to send those cubs up a tree.

ALAN GIONET: But animals without escape will.

DAVID NEILS: It's horrible when somebody loses their life from an encounter with a bear or any other animal. But risk is relative.

ALAN GIONET: And it is a very, very low risk. David Neils points out that wildlife is not for our entertainment but should be respected. If somebody drew the bears to that area with food, it could habituate them to humans. And Cannon says habituated bears lose their fear of humans and can become more assertive and more aggressive. Nothing is certain here right now, except that this was a tragedy. In Genesee, I'm Alan Gionet covering Colorado first.