June 2006

AZBW News Breaks June 13, 2006

Bear attacks 14-year-old boy sleeping in camp
Incident highlights the need to be bear aware this season

PHOENIX – A young black bear attacked and slightly injured a 14-year-old boy Sunday morning who was out camping with friends along the Gila River near Hayden. State wildlife authorities say the attack and other incidents highlight the need for campers and other outdoor recreationists throughout the state to be bear aware this season.

“Fortunately, the young man only sustained minor injuries from the bear attack. Hopefully, this incident will raise people’s awareness about the potential of increased human-wildlife interactions this year due to the prolonged drought. Black bears should always be considered unpredictable and dangerous to people,” says Randy Babb, an Arizona Game and Fish Department spokesperson.  

Authorities say the boy and three friends were camping along the Gila River at a place called the Shores Recreation Area. The four boys were sleeping on the ground and say they kept a clean camp. At about 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning, the victim woke up to a bear standing over him. The bear swatted the boy, and when his friends were awoken by the incident, they chased the bear off.

A woman at a nearby camp told wildlife officers she saw a bear come through the area about 5 a.m., stop and eat some food out of tin cans on the ground, and then move on. That was shortly before the incident with the sleeping boy.

The Shores Recreation Area has been temporarily closed by the Bureau of Land Management due to the bear incident. The bear was likely attracted to the camping area because of the significant amount of trash surrounding this popular recreation site.

Due to the aggressiveness shown by the bear and the concern for public safety, wildlife officers responded to the scene and were setting up culvert bear traps when a young black bear fitting the description of the offending animal came out of the dense vegetation along the river bottom. From about 30 yards away, a wildlife officer was able to shoot the bear. “The shot was taken at close range, and from the sign, we feel confident that the bear was mortally wounded and died soon after being shot,” says Babb.  

State wildlife authorities say human interactions with bears and other wildlife animals are likely on the increase due to the state’s prolonged drought. Babb explained that during the winter-spring of 2004-05, the state experienced record rainfall, and the available food stuffs for bears and other wildlife species was terrific. Last year, biologists noted lots of bear sows with two cubs. Those cubs are now hungry yearlings actively searching for something to eat. 

As a result, bear calls and incidents are on the increase in many areas of the state. “We have had a number of recent human-bear incidents around the state. If you go camping, be sure to be bear aware,” says Babb. 

In one recent incident in the area of Clear Creek Estates between Flagstaff and Payson, a bear approached a boy and girl sitting on their father’s pickup and the children ran. The bear chased the young girl to within 10 feet of her father, who yelled at the bear. The bear stopped and stood its ground for some time, before finally wandering off.  Wildlife authorities are actively searching for the aggressive bear.

Game and Fish Department biologists say the root cause of most conflicts between bears and people, especially in camping areas, is food. Officials say it is prudent for all outdoor recreatonists to take the following precautions to minimize potential conflicts with bears and other wildlife:

  • Never intentionally feed wildlife.
  • Secure all garbage.
  • Keep a clean camp.
  • Do not cook in your tent or sleeping area.
  • Store all foods, toiletries and other scented items well away from sleeping areas and unavailable to bears.
  • Wash up, change clothing and remove all scented articles before retiring to your sleeping area.
  • Walk or jog in groups. Pay attention to your surroundings when hiking, jogging or bicycling.
  • Supervise your children and keep them in sight.
  • Keep your pets on a leash – don’t allow them to roam free. Or better yet, leave them at home if you can. Pets can easily get into conflicts with a wide range of wildlife from skunks to coyotes.

But if you are confronted by a bear, never ever run. Try to make yourself look as big and imposing as possible. Stay facing the animal. Throw something at it. Speak and let it know you are human. Loud noises can help. Try clanging pans, using air horns, or whatever is available.