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Hungry bears attack campers

Brief by Central Staff

Wildlife – September 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

A boy scout camp near Poncha Springs was the site of two bear attacks in less than two weeks.

Vicki Mynhier, 44, a scout leader from Richardson, Texas was tucked into her sleeping bag in the early morning hours of July 24 when a bear bit into her hand and arm. Fellow campers scared the bear away, and Mynhier was taken to Salida Hospital where she was treated for minor injuries.

Department of Wildlife officers spent the next week watching the Packard High Adventure Base scout camp and its vicinity, and on August 1 they trapped and destroyed a three-year old, 175-pound bear that repeatedly rummaged for food in the area.

But on August 2, Paul Marusek, 17, of Shawnee, Kansas was sleeping in the same tent Mynhier had been in when a bear entered and bit him in the back. Marusek’s tent-mate yelled and threw shoes at the bear which released Marusek and backed out of the tent.

The next week, wildlife officers trapped and destroyed a 290-pound bear. The old, male bear was underweight for his size and his teeth were in extremely bad shape. Because he was trapped in front of the tent where both campers were attacked, wildlife officers assume they got the right bear, but there are no guarantees.

This year there have been numerous bear encounters in Colorado because the forage is bad due to a late spring frost which damaged acorn and berry production. In recent months, numerous bears have been wandering into city suburbs, and recently a extremely sticky bear was found in the warehouse of a Pepsi plant in Pueblo where it was sleeping after finishing a meal of raspberry syrup. That bear was tranquilized and relocated.

Bears that continuously raid towns and camps for food, however, are considered dangerous because they tend to lose their fear of human contact. And bears that attack in the night are the most dangerous according to a Discovery channel show on “How to Survive.” Bears sometimes attack because they’ve been startled, or separated from cubs, or feel threatened, but bears that attack with no provocation are considered extremely aggressive.

Such bears are unusual, but this year there have already been three bear attacks in Colorado, including one south of Gardner where a bear attacked a sleeping 16-year-old boy. That bear was chased off, but it returned twice and finally chased the boy’s father onto the roof of his truck; the boy’s uncle shot the bear after it refused to heed a warning shot and retreat.

Only two humans have been killed by bears in Colorado in the last 100 years, but bears that have to be destroyed because they grow bolder and bolder in their search for food are not so unusual. Wildlife officials urge that everyone, especially in campgrounds and rural mountain subdivisions, try to eliminate the human food sources that entice bears.

For the sake of Colorado’s wildlife remember the maxim, “A fed bear is a dead bear,” and help save the bears (and the unfortunate visitors who may come into close contact with the bears we’ve been feeding). If you live in bear habitat, use bear-proofed trash containers; don’t leave out hummingbird feeders, seed or suet-filled bird feeders, sunflower seeds, meat-encrusted grills, or dog food; be aware that you may be producing attractive smells with cooking and toiletries; and as much as possible keep food stored out of reach and out of smell.