Steamboat Springs A malnourished black bear, first sighted last week wandering around Howelsen Hill, was shot and killed Tuesday evening by a state wildlife official.
Although the bear was seen as something of a nuisance to recreationers near Howelsen Hill, it was shot mainly because it was extremely emaciated and obviously suffering, said Mike Middleton, district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
The bear was about 3 years old, Middleton said.
"He couldn't even stand up very well," Middleton said. "His ribs were sticking out at least an inch. Even if it had survived the next few months, that bear wouldn't have made it through the winter like that."
Middleton said this was the first time he has had to shoot a bear because of malnutrition. Usually, wildlife officials are called in to shoot bears that have already been shot but didn't die.
Middleton told Steamboat Today Tuesday that the bear had probably been relying on humans' trash for food and had been unable to find enough berries because dry conditions have severely depleted the berry crop.
Still, Middleton said he thinks the bear could have survived if it hadn't been relying on human garbage for food.
Middleton first shot a beanbag to frighten the bear before firing lead bullets. He said an animal is usually frightened by the beanbag and will run away, but this bear was actually knocked down and rolled when it was hit by the non-lethal shot. That's when Middleton knew he should put the animal out of its misery.
"After I shot him, I could feel each vertebra on his back." he said. "He was at least 50 to 100 pounds underweight for this time of year."
The bear had been seen eating trash in broad daylight. Although people had come within 100 feet of him, the bear had not attempted to approach any humans.
Just before it was shot, the bear was chased near the softball fields by a group of about 20 children.
When Middleton got to the bear, it was standing in front of the Sulfur Caves about halfway up Mile Run on Howelsen Hill. Middleton was only about 15 feet from the bear when he shot it. He fired twice with a .45-caliber handgun, killing the bear with the first shot, he said.
Middleton said he planned to take the bear to Fort Collins today for a necropsy. He wants to determine if the bear was sick as well as malnourished.
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