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Man severely injured in bear attack near Lemon Reservoir

Sheep herder working northeast of Durango released from hospital after surgery
A black bear scurries down a hillside near Hermosa Creek in 2018. A man was attacked by a bear for the first time since 2021 in La Plata County on Tuesday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

David Vasquez, a 35-year old sheep herder from Peru, was attacked and severely injured by a black bear in the Weminuche Wilderness, 23 miles northeast of Durango near Lemon Reservoir, on Tuesday morning.

The man suffered bite wounds to his head and severe lacerations on his left hip, as well as additional injuries along the left side of his body.

Vasquez, who works for J. Paul Brown, a permit-holder of a sheep grazing allotment, awoke to the sound of a disturbance about 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Several hundred yards from his tent, he encountered a black bear near the sheep herd. He fired at least one round from his 30-30 caliber rifle at the bear before it attacked him.

Vasquez crawled back to his tent and contacted his cousin. He was airlifted to Mercy Hospital, where Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials gathered DNA samples from the victim. He was later flown to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction and discharged from the hospital Wednesday afternoon.

CPW officers arrived on the scene by 8:30 a.m. and found a blood trail, as well as other evidence from the attack.

Two sheep carcasses were found near the site of the attack with wounds consistent with a bear attack. CPW Area Wildlife Manager Adrian Archuleta said it is unknown if the bear became aggressive while defending its food source.

“It’s a possibility; they definitely don’t want competition,” he said. “But is that why in this case? We don’t know.”

CPW called an agent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, who, using a team of dogs, was able to locate a bear in the vicinity. The agent fired two shots at 10:35 p.m., killing the animal.

The bear is estimated to be an 8-year-old male weighing 250 pounds. Officers found sheep wool in the bear’s stomach and are confident it was the animal responsible for the attack, but will not be certain until DNA testing is completed.

This is the 90th bear attack to take place in Colorado since 1960, including four fatal attacks. It is the first attack to take place in Colorado this year, and the first in La Plata County since 2021.

In 2021, a 39-year-old woman was killed by a bear near Trimble Lane, north of Durango. Human remains were found inside the stomachs of a sow and her yearling. CPW officials euthanized the sow and two yearlings in response.

“We have bear problems every year, but never an attack on a human,” Brown said. “… It seemed like this bear wasn’t afraid of people, and that’s one of the problems we have with bear now.”

J. Paul Brown, a sheep rancher and former state House representative, is seen with his sheep in La Plata County. (Durango Herald file)

He estimated he loses approximately 20 animals each year to bears, a number that has dropped since Brown began using dogs to guard herds. Vasquez was tending to a herd of about 750 ewes with lambs.

Archuleta said the number of bear-human interactions this year has been average or even slightly below average, however, the recent dry weather may be increasing the possibility that bears will encroach on human-occupied areas.

In cases where humans are injured by bears, it is CPW policy to euthanize the animal so that it can be tested.

“When it comes to injuries to humans as a result of a predator attack, human health and safety is our top priority,” Archuleta said in a news release.


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