An Arizona woman was injured this morning (May 1) when a bear ripped a hole in the tent where she, her husband, and their dog had been sleeping at Ponderosa Campground in Tonto National Forest, just off Highway 260 about 10 miles east of Payson.
The attack occurred around 4:30 a.m.
After tearing open the tent, the bear reportedly stuck its head in and clawed at the 74-year-old woman, leaving her with bruises and a laceration on her scalp. She was treated at Payson Regional Medical Center for non-life-threatening injuries and released.
The woman’s husband and dog were not hurt.
A large adult bear had recently been seen hanging around the campsite dumpsters. A wildlife manager with Arizona Game and Fish Department visited Ponderosa Campground yesterday looking for the bear, but it was not found.
A culvert-style trap was set. The wildlife manager talked to the campground host about precautions, and all campers were informed of the bear threat.
The bear returned to the campground sometime during the night. The campground host chased the bear, which retreated. It returned a short time later and attacked the campers in their tent.
Personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services are on scene and working with Game and Fish officers, using dogs to track the bear from the scene of the attack.
“Public safety is our first priority,” said Jim Paxon, information chief with Arizona Game and Fish Department.
“This bear poses a threat to public safety and therefore needs to be lethally removed.”
The Department will conduct a forensic necropsy to confirm that the captured bear is the one responsible for the attack. Disease testing, including rabies, will also be conducted by an outside laboratory.
Officials have evacuated campers and closed Ponderosa Campground. Lower Tonto Creek/Bear Flat/Forest Road 405A have also been closed to entry. An official closure will be put into effect by the Forest Service until the bear danger lessens.
“The bear was probably looking for food, which is scarce this summer because of drought,” Paxon said.
“These campers secured their food in the cab of their truck, and there was no food in the tent. While the campers were with the campground host and medical personnel, the bear came back to the tent a second time, ripped another hole in it, and then went after a pillow that had blood on it from the woman’s wounds.”
Bears are very active during the summer, Paxon added.
“It’s important to stay alert. Bears are attracted to places like dumpsters, trash bins and campsites. Whether folks live here or are just visiting, they need to remember this is bear country. Never leave food out, and never take food into a tent.”
Bear attacks on humans are rare. There have only been seven documented cases of bear attacks in Arizona since 1990, including this one.
It’s important to be informed about bears and what to do when you come into contact with them.
Bears are not tame, gentle, or cuddly; they are unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
Bears are naturally wary of people and are reluctant to come close to humans. However, if you do encounter a bear there are some important things to remember:
- If the bear is spotted in the distance and has NOT seen you, back away (without running) the way you came while keeping the bear in view; remain calm and avoid direct eye contact
- If the bear is at close range, back away slowly
- If you need to move forward, give the bear as much space as possibly
- If the bear is standing up, it is usually trying to identify you; talk softly so it knows what you are; if its snapping its jaws, lowering its head, flattening its ears, growling, or making ‘woofing’ signs, it is displaying aggression
- Never come between a bear and its cubs or animal carcass, as the bear will protect them; slowly back away and leave the area the way you came
- Carry pepper/bear spray when venturing into the wild
- Report all sightings to Park Staff
Remember: A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear
Alive, the grizzly is a symbol of freedom and understanding—a sign that man can learn to conserve what is left of the earth. Extinct, it will be another fading testimony to things man should have learned more about but was too preoccupied with himself to notice. In its beleaguered condition, it is above all a symbol of what man is doing to the entire planet. If we can learn from these experiences, and learn rationally, both grizzly and man may have a chance to survive.
—Frank Craighead, Track of the Grizzly, 1979