Black Bear Killed After Attacking Campground Visitor

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Wildlife authorities have concluded an investigation of a black bear attack last week on an Orange County man visiting a private recreation area in Mono County. Under California's public safety wildlife policy, the bear was declared a public safety threat and was killed.

The attack occurred at approximately 10:30 p.m. last Tuesday at a private camping resort near the town of Bridgeport in Mono County. According to witnesses, a sow with two cubs entered the vicinity of some rental cabins when, for unknown reasons, the sow lunged at a man who was standing alone next to one of the cabins. The sow then passed within inches of three witnesses sitting motionless and completely quiet in lawn chairs next to a fire pit. The bear continued through the resort without further incident.

The 43-year-old victim, whose name is not being released, sustained lacerations on both eyes, his right cheek, and the inside of his mouth. He was treated at Mammoth Lakes Hospital and released. Although his injuries were not life threatening, the victim was advised to seek additional care from an ophthalmologist for his injuries.

Officials with the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services responded to the scene. When the sow returned to the area the next night, she was shot and killed. The two cubs, estimated to weigh more than 60 pounds each, are old enough to survive on their own. They dispersed and are not considered a public safety threat.

Even though the animal did not show any clinical signs of disease, the carcass was transported to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab in Davis for a necropsy and disease testing, including rabies. The necropsy revealed human-prepared food and garbage in the animal's stomach, a likely indicator that it had recently eaten out of a garbage container. The results of rabies testing will be available in a day or two.

DFG officials have been working with businesses, federal agencies and the public in Mono County on an ongoing basis to help reduce conflicts with bears. The property where the attack occurred has signs warning of bears in the area. Garbage containers have been retrofitted to discourage bears, but employees report that some visitors intentionally leave garbage containers open, or put food outside, so that they can see bears up close.

Although bear attacks are rare, this was the second reported attack in California this year. The DFG has recorded 12 bear attacks in the state since 1980. In some cases, details of these attacks were not completely known. According to the DFG's statewide public safety wildlife policy, a wild animal attack is defined as "physical contact, injury or death." Each attack is summarized at www.dfg.ca.gov/news/news03/bear_incidents.html

According to Doug Updike, a DFG wildlife biologist and statewide bear program coordinator, the incident should serve as a reminder to people that bears, like all wild animals, are potentially dangerous. "A sow with cubs is going to be in a protective mode, making her especially unpredictable," Updike said. "That's why we tell people to enjoy bears at a distance, and to never feed them."

With an estimated 30,000 black bears in California, encounters with humans are certain to occur. For anyone living in bear habitat or who encounter a bear, these are some rules to follow:

Keep your camp clean, and never feed a bear - People should never feed bears, even unintentionally. It is also against the law and several local ordinances also cite people for feeding bears. When camping, hiking or backpacking, make sure to keep a clean camp, as bears are far more likely to visit a camp if there are attractants, which include dirty cooking utensils. Also dispose of all garbage properly and use bear-proof garbage cans whenever possible, or store garbage in a secure location with food. Don't bury or burn excess food because bears will still be attracted to the residual smell. Garbage should be packed out of camp if no trash receptacles are available.

Never approach a bear - Most black bears will avoid confrontation if given the chance. If a bear encounter occurs, make sure to give the animal enough space to escape. Most human injuries associated with black bears occur when a bear is approached. If a black bear approaches, try to demonstrate that you may be a danger to it. Make yourself larger, stand up, raise your arms and open your jacket. Yell, bang pots and pans or whatever objects you may have that will create a commotion.

Do not run from a bear - Running away from a black bear may stimulate its instinct to chase. No human will be able to outrun a bear. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact, but don't stare. If you have small children with you, pick them up so they can't run away or panic.

Other information on being bear aware is also available. The DFG has a "Keep Me Wild" campaign, urging people to stash their food and trash. The campaign's web site is located at www.keepmewild.org. Also, view the DFG publication Living With California Black Bears at www.dfg.ca.gov/hunting/bearbrochure2000.pdf.