|A 300-pound black bear attacked a camper sleeping on the ground in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson at around 3 a.m. Sunday morning. Arizona Game and Fish Department officers trapped what may be the offending bear on Sunday night.
"We trapped a large male bear in the exact camp site where the attack occurred, so we are fairly confident we have the right animal. It was sent to the University of Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Tucson," said Joan Scott, acting Tucson regional supervisor.
The bear was euthanized at the Veterinary Center so that its brain can be tested for rabies. Tom Whetten, Tucson regional information and education program manager, explained that bears are extremely territorial and it is unlikely that any other male bear would be in the same territory as a dominant 300-pound male. "The UofA Veterinary Laboratory will compare the bear's teeth to the bite mark pattern, but we are pretty confident this is the right bear."
Game and Fish officers reported that on the Saturday evening, Cody and Jason Fickett of Tucson went camping in Gardner Canyon. They arrived around 9:30 p.m. They had eaten at McDonalds on the way out, so they did not eat in camp. The brothers made a fire, had one beer each, and then went to bed around 11 p.m. Both young men slept on the ground in their sleeping bags.
At around 3 a.m., Jason awoke to his brother screaming. A bear was attacking Cody. Jason saw the bear was trying to drag his brother into the bushes. Jason screamed "at the top of his lungs" and repeatedly shoved and hit the bear. The bear dropped Cody and stepped back.
"Neither brother seems to know much about what the bear did after that, because they were concentrating on getting Cody into the vehicle and getting away," Scott said. "We'd like to emphasize that Jason did it right. If attacked by a black bear, the best thing to do is fight back."
According to reports of black bear attacks across North America over the years, fighting back has proven to be a successful tactic. Jason drove Cody to a gas station in Sonoita and called 911. Cody was then air evacuated to the Tucson Medical Center. He suffered puncture wounds and other injuries to his neck and back.
Game and Fish officers investigating the scene determined the brothers had a clean camp. There was food in the vehicle, plus the paper bag from the McDonald's dinner the night before. There was also food in an ice chest about five feet from the sleeping area.
"There was apparently no food in the sleeping area. The bear ignored the food in the vehicle and the ice chest," said Game Ranger Richard Gerhart.
However, Gerhart said, other campsites in the canyon had plenty of bear attractants, such as food and trash, out in the open. "It's possible that the available food in the other campsites are what attracted this bear in the first place. We will never know. What we do know is that people need to keep clean camps to avoid attracting bears," Gerhart said.
The morning following the attack, the bear was seen in other campsites in Gardner Canyon. Mike Senn, assistant director for Field Operations, explained that in most areas of the state that contain bear habitat, bears went into their dens last fall in pretty poor condition due to the lack of a mast (acorns and berries) crop. Bears have recently come out of their winter dens and are trying to replenish their bodily reserves.
Good winter and spring rains have been a terrific help to most habitats, but bears will still be actively out foraging. "Even in years when habitat conditions are good, there are still plenty of campground and garbage bears, so people still need to take the proper precautions and bear proof their camps," said Senn.
The Gardner Canyon bear is not the first bear problem in southern Arizona this season. A 200-pound male bear in Madera Canyon had been causing problems for about three weeks. It has even been sleeping in the campground area. Game and Fish officers were called on the scene Sunday when the bear had gone up a tree. Officers captured the bear with a tranquilizer gun. After interviewing several campers who reported the bear displayed no apparent fear of humans, the bear was killed.
Senn explained that large mature male bears are not typically candidates for relocation. Case reports across North America show that large male bears, especially those that have become accustomed to being around people, are the most likely to injure humans. "We know that relocating a large male bear that is accustomed to humans is just moving a problem from one area to another."
Copyright © 2000 J & D Outdoor Communications. All rights reserved.