A New Mexico marathon runner was less than 3 miles from the finish line of an organized mountain race when she climbed over a hilltop and saw a black bear charging at her.
The female black bear attacked after Karen Williams unknowingly startled it and at least one of its cubs, which ran up a tree in Valles Caldera National Preserve. The mother bear scratched Williams and bit at her neck and head Saturday before she curled up played dead.
The mauling, considered rare for New Mexico, left Williams with multiple punctures and cuts. She said a “mean left hook” by the bear also fractured her right eye socket and ripped her eyelid, but her injuries miraculously were not life-threatening.
“I tried to look around but was having trouble seeing much,” the Los Alamos resident wrote in a Facebook post Monday, which wildlife officials confirmed. “I tried to sit up but was nauseated and my arms didn’t seem to work right.”
After the bear and its three cubs wandered off, Williams said she lay alone in the wilderness for 30 minutes. Other runners in the Valles Calderas Runs event came along and rushed to her aid: One bolted to the next water station for help while others tended to her until emergency crews arrived.
Williams was airlifted to an Albuquerque hospital, and she was released the next day.
Wildlife officials tracked the bear to an area near the attack and euthanized it Sunday. They said state law requires them to put down any wild animal that attacks or bites a person and test it for rabies.
They searched Monday for the bear’s cubs, with plans to take them to a wildlife center if they were found.
“We’re trying to be careful about how we capture them,” said Lance Cherry, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “We don’t want to injure them.”
Black bears, the only type in the wild in New Mexico, typically shy away from people but have been known to attack in certain instances — especially when a female bear senses her cubs are threatened.
This weekend’s attack was the first so far this year. There were four bear attacks resulting in injuries in 2015, but none in the previous two years, Cherry said.
“It’s a pretty rare occurrence,” he said. “Last year was an unusual year.”
It’s possible that drought — which can deplete natural food sources and drive bears closer to populated areas — may have been a factor in the high number of encounters last year, Cherry said. But wildlife officials had not determined an official reason for the attacks, none of which were fatal.
The best way to respond to a bear is to make noise, avoid direct eye contact and back away slowly instead of running, which can trigger a bear’s instinct to give chase. Officials also recommend holding out an object like a jacket as a way to appear larger.
In Williams’ case, she screamed, initially tried to fight back and stayed aware of her surroundings, Cherry said, calling those steps the right moves. But he does not recommend playing dead like she did.
“It’s such a rarity for the person to play dead and for it to work out,” Cherry said. “The idea is to be as big as you can.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
She didn’t face down anything. The ignorant idiot got between the mother and her cubs, and was attacked. The runner played dead on the ground until the bear left.
I absolutely cannot believe the mother bear was killed!!…..because she was protecting her cubs? If the wanted to know if she had rabies, tranquilizer her, do the test, and return her to her cubs….duh! Now they are going to relocate the Cubs…”if”…..they can be found…..I’ll bet they don’t put forth much effort in locating the Cubs which results in 3 bear cubs loosing their life uselessly! How insensitive can the officials be!!!!….officials who
are being paid to “PROTECT” these bears…….it would appear they all need to be fired for
incompetency and a failure to perform their jobs! Idiots! Lame-brain idiots!!!!
joyce davidson says
The only way to test for rabies is by examining the brain. That is why the animal must be killed to do the test. I wish someone would invent a blood test or some other way to do it.
They are running a ‘Mountain race’ in a wildlife area with bears, and they have no one at 100 yard intervals or so to watch for such things?. What were the organizers thinking?. Oh, I guess they weren’t thinking.
David Barron says
Organized and staffed by idiots.
Robert Hagedorn says
Bad story. Bad. Bad. Bad.
It amazes me to read that a mother bear was killed just for being a protective mother. How disgusting to have such a ridiculous law in place. So now the babies have no mom. Way to go, idiots. Keep it up and we won’t have any wildlife left at all. Why are animals put down for simply being what they are ? We have invaded their homes and that’s OK? This is just horrible.
David Barron says
Who were the idiot organizers of the race? they should know better than to put a course thorough a known habitat of the bears. Now one Mother Bear who was doing what she was suppose to do, defend her children, has been killed because the race organizers were idiots.
jim winters says
I agree with all the above.Probably 3 dead cubs also…
Mike sanders says
Dont understand why this bear was killed just because state law says that any attack like this must be addressed by killing the animal. Seems like the bear was behaving in an entirely natural manner and was protecting its cubs, nothing more than that. Her natural territory was invaded by human threats to herself and cubs. Glad that the attacked runner agrees that it was wrong to kill the bear.
NM state regs need to be changed so authorities can consider case specific circumstances in situations like this, versus an automatic killing of the animal with no consideration of the situation which lead to the incident.