By staff reports
A 39-year-old woman was found dead Friday night off U.S. Highway 550 near Trimble, north of Durango, after what Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officials believe was a bear attack.
An autopsy on the woman will be performed by the La Plata County coroner early next week. The coroner’s office will identify the remains and determine the official cause of death.
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.
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. 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 are being 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,” said Cory Chick, CPW Southwest Region manager. “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.”
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 it was a wildlife attack.
An examination of the sow’s teeth led wildlife officers to believe she over 10 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.