A sheep herder was seriously injured in a pre-dawn bear attack in southwest Colorado on Tuesday, authorities said.
The unidentified 35-year-old man was near a camp in the Weminuche Wilderness above Lemon Reservoir in San Juan National Forest early Tuesday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife said in a statement Wednesday.
The man was working for the holder of a permit for a sheep grazing allotment, park officials said.
He was awakened by a disturbance between a black bear and his sheep about 1 a.m., park officials said.
The herder sustained “bite wounds to his head as well as additional wounds to his left hand and arm, severe lacerations to his left hip area and scratches on his back,” the statement said.
“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,” said Adrian Archuleta, the area wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Park officials said the herder fired a rifle at the bear before it attacked him.
After he was seriously injured, the herder crawled to his tent to contact his cousin. He was airlifted to Mercy Regional Medical Center.
Three wildlife officers arrived at the camp by 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and spotted a blood trail and the victim's rifle. They also collected multiple DNA samples from the scene, park officials said. There were also two dead sheep with “wounds consistent with bear depredation," park officials said.
An agent with the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service was contacted. A team of dogs was used to search for the bear, park officials said, saying they were unsure whether the bear was hit by any rifle shots.
The dogs found a scent for a bear and followed it. A federal agent investigating the incident shot and killed the bear shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday, park officials said.
The incident was classified as an “attack,” and under agency policy the bear had to be euthanized, park officials said.
The 8-year-old male bear weighed about 250 pounds, park officials said.
Until the DNA results return from the lab, Archuleta said, it’s not 100% certain that the bear that was killed was the bear that attacked the herder.
“But based on the information we have at this point, we feel confident that it is the offending bear,” he said.
The bear had wounds on its chest. Investigators were unable to determine whether were from a gunshot fired by the herder, park officials said.
It was the first reported bear attack in Colorado this year, park officials said.