Three black bears that were lethally removed from two Payson-area campgrounds by Arizona Game and Fish officials following a trio of attacks on campers within the last month do not have rabies.
The bears, which were killed by Game and Fish officials, were tested for rabies following attacks on one woman and two men, including Pedro Baca, 30, of Tempe, who remains hospitalized in Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn hospital after being attacked Sunday as he slept at the Ponderosa Campground. Baca, who was in fair condition, was bitten on the head.
However, DNA testing results on the three bears are pending to determine whether they were the ones involved in the maulings on the campers on May 31, June 21 and on Sunday. Wyoming Game and Fish Wildlife Forensic and Fish Health Laboratory, which is nationally known for its area of expertise, currently is conducting the DNA testing on the bears, according to Arizona Game and Fish.
“The negative rabies tests help us rule out that the bears that we removed, and that may be responsible for the attacks, were not behaving aggressively due to the rabies virus,” said Dr. Anne Justice-Allen, Arizona Game and Fish Department wildlife veterinarian. “Next we will wait for the DNA analysis to be complete to confirm whether the attacks are related and if the forensic evidence connects any of the bears that were removed to one or more of the attacks.”
Rabies testing was necessary to determine if the victims were exposed to the virus, and can only be conducted on a dead animal, making it necessary to lethally remove the bears due to their aggressive nature against humans.
On May 31, an Apache Junction woman was the first victim of an attack at the Ponderosa Campground. The bear tore into her tent and mauled her on the head, according to information from Game and Fish.
A Glendale man was attacked on June 21 in the Thompson Draw II area, about a mile from the Ponderosa Campground.
With the state’s drought and scarce wildlife food resources, more and more wildlife are moving into areas that are on the fringe of wildlands, looking for food. Bears are particularly attracted to campground areas where they often find easy access to garbage and food sources.
Bear attacks on humans are rare despite Arizona’s robust population of 2,500 to 3,000 bears. Sunday’s attack is only the 10th documented bear attack in Arizona since 1990, but the third this year, according to Game and Fish.
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