The body of a 39-year-old woman in the Colorado countryside who went missing on a walk with her two dogs Friday morning was found hours later by her boyfriend, and officials said there was signs that she had been attacked by a bear.
While searching the area along Highway 550 near Trimble, about a hundred miles south of Telluride, state parks and wildlife officials found not one bear, but three: one adult black bear and two smaller bears about one year old. Officials euthanized them and found human remains in the adult bear and one of the yearlings.
“A dangerous bear that has had a fatal attack and the consumption of a person is not something we can allow to be out there in the landscape,” said Jason Clay, a spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The attack took place on private property along the highway, Clay said. The woman, who has not been identified, had gone for a morning walk, and when her boyfriend returned home that evening, he found their dogs outside the house.
After searching for an hour, the boyfriend found the body of his missing girlfriend and called 911, officials said.
When officials arrived at the scene, they “observed signs of consumption on the body,” as well as feces and bear hair, park and wildlife officials said. Deputies from the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office and a team of dogs from the US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services joined with Colorado parks and wildlife officials to search the area.
The dog team found the bears and the Colorado parks and wildlife officials euthanized them, Clay said. The female bear was over 10 years old and the youngest were around a year old and were likely born during the winter, Clay said.
Late Sunday evening, Colorado parks and wildlife officials said human remains were found in the stomachs of the adult bear and one of the yearlings; no human remains were found in the stomach of the second yearling, they said. The bears also appear to have been in good health.
Cory Chick, another parks and wildlife spokesperson, said in a statement that it was “very likely” the bears would attack again.
“Once a bear injures or consumes humans, we don’t risk it happening to anyone else,” he said.
Last month, a guide from the backcountry just west of Yellowstone National Park in Montana was killed by a large grizzly bear. But in Colorado, there had been no fatal bear attack since 2009, officials said.
There have been three fatal attacks recorded in Colorado in the past 50 years. In 1971, a 31-year-old camper was killed when a bear attacked his tent. In 1993, a man was killed inside his motorhome after attempting to defend himself by shooting a bear in the rib cage. In 2009, a 74-year-old woman was killed after illegally feeding bears through a fence in her yard, officials said.
State officials estimate that there are 17,000 to 20,000 black bears in Colorado, where parks and wildlife officials attempt to educate people about bear safety.
“We share a lot of the same spaces,” Clay said. At this time of year, bears become active as they come out of hibernation. “They’re going to be looking for food,” he said.
In a statement on Saturday, he said: “It is a tragic event and a sad reminder that bears are wild and potentially dangerous.”
Officials said they did not know what led to the latest attack and an autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.
Mr Chick said “it is important that the public does not blame this woman for this unfortunate and tragic event”.
He added: “There are inherent risks in anyone venturing outside.”