Human Remains Found in Stomachs of 2 Bears After Woman’s Body Found on Colorado Trail

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Black bears with cubs
Credit: USA Today

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) pathologist found human remains inside the stomachs of a sow and her yearling bear that CPW wildlife officers suspect of killing and eating a 39-year-old woman Friday north of Durango. CPW wildlife officers discovered the three bears near the woman’s mauled body after a search that included a U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services team’s trained tracking dogs.

CPW’s wildlife pathologist found the remains in the digestive systems of the black bears Saturday night as she conducted necropsies of three bears at a CPW health lab in Fort Collins. A necropsy is a scientific dissection and examination of an animal, similar to an autopsy of a human. No human remains were found in the stomach of a second yearling euthanized with the other two.

Besides finding human remains in two of the bears, CPW’s wildlife pathologist said she found nothing abnormal in the bears. All three appeared to be healthy. The sow (adult female) bear weighed 204 pounds while the yearlings weighed 58 and 66 pounds. All three bears were in good body condition with adequate fat stores appropriate for the season (black bears typically lose between 20-27 percent of their body fat during hibernation). Initial findings on the bears did not reveal any signs of disease or other abnormalities, but further histopathology and rabies testing will take up to two weeks to complete.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the boyfriend, family and friends of the woman we lost in this tragic event. We cannot determine with exact certainty how or why this attack took place, but it is important for the public not to cast blame on this woman for the unfortunate and tragic event. There are inherent risks anyone takes when venturing outdoors. That could be from wildlife, the landscape, weather events or other circumstances one cannot plan for.”

– Cory Chick, CPW Southwest Region manager

The 39-year-old woman was found dead Friday night off U.S. Highway 550 near Trimble, north of Durango. The woman, a Durango resident, was believed to have gone walking with her two dogs earlier Friday, according to information provided to the La Plata County Sheriff’s office by her boyfriend. The victim had last communicated with her boyfriend late in the morning.

The boyfriend, whose name has not been released, told the sheriff’s office he returned home around 8:30 p.m. and discovered the two dogs outside of their home, but the woman was missing. He started searching for her and discovered her body around 9:30 p.m. He then called 911 to report the incident.

Trimble, CO

CPW wildlife officers responded and observed signs of consumption on the body and an abundance of bear scat and hair at the scene.

La Plata County Sheriff’s deputies assisted in the investigation. In addition, CPW called in a dog team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to search the area.

The dog team quickly found a sow (female) black bear with two yearlings nearby. The bears were euthanized and taken to CPW’s Wildlife Health Lab in Fort Collins for a necropsy. DNA evidence from the bears and the scene will be sent to Laramie for testing at the Wyoming Game and Fish Wildlife Forensic & Fish Health Laboratory.

“Bear attacks are extremely rare. 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.”

– Cory Chick, CPW Southwest Region manager

Chick asked the public to avoid the area as the CPW investigation with La Plata County continues. Wildlife officers worked throughout the night and into the morning to process the scene, looking for evidence to corroborate a wildlife attack.

An examination of the sow’s teeth led wildlife officers to believe she was over ten years old.

CPW has received a few reports from the Durango area of bears becoming active this spring. The majority of these have been sighting reports. On April 19, a resident along the Animas River and La Plata County Road 250 captured a single bear on his game camera and reported that the bear tore down his bird feeder. On March 23, CPW received a report of a bear getting into trash east of Durango off Florida Road.

It is only the fourth fatal bear attack recorded in Colorado since records began sixty years ago and the first for nearly twelve years. It is the second fatal bear attack in North America in 2021.

Bears are active statewide, and it is important to be Bear Aware. Bear Aware principles stress securing all trash, removing attractants from yards such as bird feeders and pet food. It includes removing food from vehicles. Keeping garage doors closed to deny bears access to your homes and food items stored inside. Finally, it includes securing chicken coops and livestock.

Colorado has strong and sustainable bear populations, estimated to be between 17,000-20,000 black bears, and growing in many areas across the state. Over the last two years, CPW received 10,312 reports of bear sightings and conflicts statewide. Of those, 3,389 involved garbage, a major attractant, and source of bear conflicts.

Another 879 bear conflict reports involved bears forcefully breaking into homes, dwellings, or garages. Again, that is a result of a bear’s behavior dangerously escalating due to people’s inability or unwillingness to secure food attractants and ultimately leads to the unnecessary death of bears.

“Residents and visitors of bear habitat in Colorado need to be educated and informed to use the very best techniques and behaviors to minimize any bear access to human food sources. Food-conditioned bears, or habituated bears, looking for an easy handout such as your backyard bird feeder, can develop aggressive and dangerous behavior. For these bears, humans become an inconvenience when we are in the way of the food the bear is seeking. They are no longer fearful, and this is behavior we cannot allow.”

– Cory Chick, CPW Southwest Region manager

Fatal Bear Attacks in Colorado

July 25, 1971: A honeymooning couple was attacked while tent camping near Grand Lake in Grand County. A large older bear entered the tent, injured the woman, and pulled the 31-year-old man away from the campsite. The man was killed. The bear was later found and destroyed. Further examination of the black bear found that it had worn abscessed teeth and a plastic bucket in its stomach.

Aug. 10, 1993: A 24-year-old Buena Vista man was attacked and killed after a male bear broke into a camper 20 miles north of Cotopaxi in Fremont County, presumably in a food search. The camper tried to stop the attack by shooting at the bear, but it only injured the animal. The bear was injured by a bullet that grazed its rib cage, possibly increasing the intensity of the attack. A 250-pound, very aggressive male black bear with a fresh bullet wound to the rib cage was trapped and destroyed six days later. A necropsy on the bear revealed human remains in its digestive system.

Aug. 7, 2009: A 74-year-old woman was killed and partially eaten by a bear or bears at her home near Ouray, in Ouray County. As sheriff’s deputies were investigating the scene, they were approached by a 250-pound, 5-year-old male black bear that exhibited aggressive behavior. Deputies shot and killed the bear after it approached them and showed no fear of people. Results of the necropsy on that bear were inconclusive as to whether it was involved in the original incident. Early the next morning, federal wildlife officers killed a 394-pound, mature male black bear that approached the home and exhibited aggressive behavior. A necropsy on the large older boar revealed human remains and remnants of clothing in its digestive system. A CPW investigation determined the victim illegally fed bears through a fence in her yard.

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2 thoughts on “Human Remains Found in Stomachs of 2 Bears After Woman’s Body Found on Colorado Trail

  1. Lots of questions on this one that will never be answered. The two dogs made their way home? How do we not know she didn’t trip, fall, and die only to be consumed by the bears? Tragic and rare situation obviously.

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