People interacting irresponsibly with Colorado's wildlife has long been an issue. One key aspect of this problem is how people tend to underestimate the risk that comes with getting close to wild animals. Perhaps no case is a better example of this than that of Donna Munson, a mountain town woman that fell victim to the bears she reportedly fed for years.
On August 7, 2009, a handyman was seeking work on Donna Munson's property, located approximately four miles north of the mountain town of Ouray, Colorado. While he was there, he spotted what would turn out to be the body of Munson and called the police.
Prior to her death, rumors had circulated that Munson, 74, had been feeding the local bears for more than 10 years. She had repeatedly been warned by wildlife officials about the risks of her actions and her neighbors regularly expressed concern, but without evidence, law enforcement was unable to issue a citation or fine. Presumably, for more than 10 years, Munson fed the bears without issue, until one day, that was no longer the case.
Exactly what happened on the day of Munson's death is a bit murky, mostly because there were no human witnesses.
The most likely scenario is that one of the bears that Munson had been feeding, likely attracted to the property with dog food, reached through a fence that had been constructed around Munson's porch, striking her and knocking her unconscious. At that point, a bear was able to drag Munson beneath her fence, followed by at least one bear partially consuming her.
At this point, it's important to address the fence – a makeshift barrier that few would trust with stopping a bear. One investigator described it as seven or eight feet tall, created with regular farm-type wire with holes that measured about four by four inches. Reportedly, it had been designed to let Munson feed the bears, but also to prevent them from getting to her.
While authorities were unable to determine which local bear actually killed Munson, they did kill two bears following the attack – one male that was 394 pounds and another that was 250. A necropsy revealed that the larger bear had consumed some of Munson, though no determination was made regarding the smaller bear.
Munson's official cause of death was determined to be trauma due to a bear attack, with the theory behind the initial strike that landed through the fence supported by claw marks on Munson's head, as well as hemorrhaging.
Some may spot similarities between this case and the infamous case of Timothy Treadwell, as documented by Werner Herzog in the 2005 film Grizzly Man. Treadwell spent 13 summers living closely with coastal brown bears in Alaska before being attacked and eaten, along with his girlfriend, in 2003.
Obviously, it's dangerous to interact with bears. They're an apex predator that can be very aggressive, especially when food or offspring are involved or when they feel threatened. While unprovoked bear attacks are rare, it's still important to know what to do if an interaction takes place. Make yourself look large and never run, instead slowly moving sideways away from the bear. The black bear is the only bear species in Colorado and while 'playing dead' might work if a grizzly attacks, always fight back if a black bear makes contact.
It's also important to note that keeping potential bear attractants outside, such as dog food, can be extremely dangerous for both those at the property, as well as their neighbors.
Do your part to keep Colorado's wildlife wild by taking steps to ensure that the impact of your actions on the natural behavior of wildlife are minimal. It's also important not to assume that an animal is domesticated because they're being curious or friendly – they're still wild animals that can be unpredictable and dangerous.
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