State Game and Fish Department officers are searching for a black bear that attacked a 60-year-old man from Missouri who was elk hunting west of Wagon Mound, the second bear attack on a person in two days in Northern New Mexico, officials said Friday.
The hunter received bite injuries to his foot through his boot as he climbed a tree to try to escape the bear. He was taken to Alta Vista Hospital in Las Vegas, N.M., where he was treated and released.
The attack, which occurred Thursday near the tiny village of Ocate, marked the seventh time a black bear has attacked a human in the state this year, the highest number in the past 16 years, according to Lance Cherry, a spokesman for the Game and Fish Department. It was the fourth attack this year resulting in an injury. None of the attacks was fatal.
Cherry said the recent increase could be due to several factors, some of it just bad luck for the victims. Two of the encounters happened deep in the backcountry, where men were looking for antler sheds. In another incident, a little girl was bitten in her tent in the backyard of her home in Raton. She had food inside the tent and lives in a town well-known for bears wandering through in search of scraps.
Bears routinely wander into towns looking for food during times of drought. But with the extra rains this year, acorns, piñon nuts and other food supplies are abundant. Those edibles usually grow near trails and streams in areas where people hunt and recreate.
This makes the chances of close encounters rise, which could lead to “attacks that are primarily defensive in nature,” Cherry said. “Vegetation is also full and grasses tall due to the rain, which helps make surprise encounters much more likely.”
In Thursday’s attack, the hunter told officials he was eating lunch under a tree when he spotted the bear and her cub in a watering hole. He took photographs and started shooting video of the animals when the mother bear got angry and charged. The hunter, who officials did not identify, climbed the tree to escape.
At one point, the hunter fell 15 feet from the tree and then managed to climb back up. He fired his pistol into the air and at the female bear in attempt to scare it, but the animal didn’t leave. He then radioed for help. His guide told officers he found the hunter clinging to the tree nearly 50 feet from the ground.
The hunter told game officers he had seen five other bears before the attack.
The attack came a day after a female black bear with a cub clawed a runner on a trail near Los Alamos. Officers with hounds spent Thursday looking for that bear but suspended the search Friday because the dogs could no longer pick up the animal’s scent.
Officers also were searching Friday and setting traps for the bear that attacked the elk hunter.
Before this year, the state had averaged two bear attacks a year for the last five years. The bears involved are rarely located, and their gender is usually unknown, Cherry said.
No bear attacks on humans were reported between 2002 and 2006, according to the department.
The two bear encounters this week involved mother bears who had cubs by their side. The Los Alamos trail apparently was thick with berry-filled bushes, and the watering hole near Ocate attracts thirsty animals.
The attacks come as the State Game Commission recently voted to increase kill limits on black bears and cougars in most hunting areas of the state, claiming that populations of both species have risen. Conservationists opposed to the decision have disputed the department’s population estimates, claiming they were based on faulty science.
Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.