After being swiped in the face by an intruding bear early Friday morning in his Castle Creek home in Aspen, a man was transferred from Aspen Valley Hospital to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction to undergo surgery.
Prior to the attack, the victim awoke after hearing noises from inside his home, said Randy Hampton, Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson.
“He heard something in his house and got up and walked out, and there’s the bear — and it was in his living room. [It] took a swipe at him, got him down the side of the head and face and neck. Not life threatening but potentially life altering,” Hampton said of the man’s injuries.
Pitkin County dispatchers received the initial call at around 1:28 a.m. Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded, and CPW was alerted about an hour later.
“We had four officers respond — two of us responded to the hospital and two of us responded to the residence — and we were all there by 3:30,” CPW Area Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita said.
With the bear having been at large upon their arrival, dogs were brought in to help track the bruin “first thing in the morning,” Hampton said.
“The dogs hit the trail right away, and they were on it. That’s exactly what these dogs are trained to do.”
A little before noon Friday, CPW officials had successfully euthanized the bruin. The chase had led the team to the backside of Aspen Mountain, where the bear eventually was backed into a sort of mineshaft, away from homes and human activity.
“The bear went into this hole in the ground — mineshaft — so we made sure we talked to mine safety and fire [to make sure it was safe to enter],” Hampton said of procedures that followed the shooting of the bruin.
Officials went into the shaft to ensure the bear was indeed dead and not suffering from wounds and then collected DNA evidence to cross-examine with hair and saliva samples collected at the scene of the intrusion roughly eight hours earlier.
“The guys are very sure that this is the bear — as sure as you can be,” Hampton said.
Still, the DNA samples are being sent to a laboratory in Wyoming to confirm its identity with 100% certainty. Those results will likely come back next week, he continued.
No stranger to the neighborhood
The bear was familiar to CPW officials.
“We believe — and this is based on the description of someone who was startled in their house and then slashed by a bear, which can understandably get blurry — the description of the bear matches a bear that’s been in that Castle Creek area for the last couple of days and has been around the last couple of years,” Hampton said, adding that that belief was furthered after officials saw the bear for themselves Friday.
It’s in those last few years that CPW officials tried, unsuccessfully, trapping the repeat offender.
“In the past, it would’ve been good if we could have relocated it; at this point, that’s not [an option],” he said.
Yamashita emphasized Friday morning that all precautions were taken to ensure the bear’s identity before the drastic-but-necessary actions were taken.
“We never like to have to put an animal down but the protection of the public is paramount once a bear begins entering homes and responding aggressively toward people,” he said in a statement released after the bear had been euthanized.
CPW officials did not have any further information Friday afternoon about the medical status of the man who suffered the blow from the bear. The incident was the first bear-human attack in Aspen this year. Last year, wildlife officers responded to three such attacks, all of which occurred outdoors.
Yamashita underscored the importance of people who live in bear country taking every precaution to avoid attracting bears to places of human activity, such as a residential neighborhood.
“Proper management of trash and recycling is the first step to keeping bears away from neighborhoods,” he said. “Locking doors and windows and keeping cars locked is also important.”