A woman was found dead in Durango, Colorado, on Friday night after what officials believe was a bear attack, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced Saturday.
“This is a tragic event and a sad reminder that bears are wild and potentially dangerous,” CPW Southwest Region manager Cory Chick said in a statement.
The 39-year-old woman, whose identity has not yet been released, went on a walk with her two dogs on Friday, the woman’s boyfriend told the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office. The boyfriend said that when he returned to their home that night, the woman was not there but the two dogs were. Upon searching for her, he found her body near a local highway and reported the incident.
CPW wildlife officers and La Plata County Sheriff’s deputies reported “signs of consumption” on the woman’s body and “an abundance of bear scat and hair” at the scene. A team of dogs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services conducted a search and discovered a female black bear, believed to be over ten years old, with two other young bears nearby. The bears have been euthanized and are being taken to CPW’s Wildlife Health Lab for a necropsy, CPW said.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the bears were removed for public safety,” Chick said. “We ask the public to report any encounter with an aggressive bear to CPW.”
The investigation is ongoing and Chick has asked residents to avoid nearby areas.
Chick said that while bear attacks are “extremely rare,” CPW has received reports of bears becoming active again this spring.
There are an estimated 19,000 black bears in Colorado, according to CPW. A study published by the National Library of Medicine found that in the last decade, large carnivore attacks on humans in developed countries have increased. The study also found that spring and summer were the seasons which showed the highest rates of attack. The study’s authors noted, however, that these attacks are “rare compared to human fatalities by other wildlife.”
CPW advises residents to bear-proof their homes, carry bear spray while hiking and camping and to avoid feeding wildlife.
“Every time we’re forced to destroy a bear, it’s not just the bear that loses. We all lose a little piece of the wildness that makes Colorado so special,” CPW said on their website. “So please, learn to protect bears.”