A sheep herder has survived after a bear woke him up and viciously attacked him in the middle of the night, authorities say.
The bear attack happened at approximately 1 a.m. near a camp in the Weminuche Wilderness above Lemon Reservoir, located roughly 23 miles northeast of Durango, Colorado, according to a statement from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
"The victim reported being woken up by a disturbance at the camp involving his sheep and a black bear," CPW said. "The victim reported having fired a .30-30 caliber rifle at the bear before it attacked him."
The unnamed 35-year-old man was a herder working for a permit holder of a sheep grazing allotment on the San Juan National Forest, authorities say, and he 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 during the attack.
"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 CPW Area Wildlife Manager Adrian Archuleta.
The herder was able to crawl to his tent and contact his cousin following the attack, according to CPW, and emergency services were able to locate and airlift him to Mercy Regional Medical Center where he received initial treatment before being flown to Grand Junction for surgery. The man's current condition is unknown.
"CPW was notified of the attack at 4 a.m., and three wildlife officers were at the Transfer Park trailhead and on scene of the camp near the Burnt Timber Trail by 8:30 a.m.," CPW said in a press release following the attack. "They quickly discovered a blood trail, the victim's rifle and collected multiple DNA samples from the attack scene. CPW also discovered two dead sheep at the site with wounds consistent with bear depredation."
Unsure if the bear had been hit by any of the rifle shots fired by the victim, CPW officers began to search for the animal involved in the attack and contacted an agent from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) with a team of dogs to search for it.
"The dog team arrived at 5 p.m. and began to work the scene. Soon after, the hounds alerted a scent trail on the south side of the creek drainage and were immediately in pursuit of a bear suspected in the attack," CPW said. "The hounds pursued the bear to the Florida River, and CPW officers followed in steep and treacherous terrain following the GPS signal from the collars of the dogs. At 10:53 p.m., the APHIS agent shot and killed the bear. Because the bear made contact with a human, it is classified under CPW policy as an attack and the agency's policy is to euthanize the bear."
The male bear -- estimated to be approximately 8-years-old and weighing 250 pounds -- had wounds in the chest area when it was killed but officers were unable to determine if they were due to gunshot wounds fired by the victim during the attack.
"This is a difficult part of the job," Archuleta said. "But when it comes to injuries to humans as a result of a predator attack, human health and safety is our top priority."
This is the first reported bear attack in Colorado in 2023 and the first in La Plata County since April 2021.
CPW collected evidence from the deceased bear and several DNA samples were sent to the CPW Wildlife Health Lab in Fort Collins for testing to compare it with samples collected at the attack scene, authorities said. Additionally, sheep wool was found in the bear's stomach contents and the animal will be checked for disease, such as rabies, because the victim was bitten by the animal.
"Until we get results back from the lab regarding DNA testing, we can't 100% confirm that this is the offending bear," Archuleta said. "But based on the information we have at this point, we feel confident that it is the offending bear."