The remains of a woman mauled to death after an apparent attack by black bears have been found inside two of the animals.
Experts made the grim discovery after an unnamed 39-year-old was killed on Friday in the US state of Colorado.
A Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) pathologist said that on investigation human remains were found inside the stomachs of a sow and her yearling bear.
Officials believe that the bear killed and ate the woman, who was out walking her dog, in what has been described as a rare attack.
Pathologists carried out investigations on three bears at a lab in Fort Collins. No human remains were found in the stomach of a second yearling which was euthanised along with the other two.
The La Plata County coroner’s office is expected to conduct an autopsy on the dead woman on Tuesday, to determine the official cause of death and identify the remains.
The three bears were all found near the woman’s mauled body after a search by CPW wildlife officers, which included a team of US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services trained tracking dogs.
CPW wildlife officers called in a dogs team after the woman’s body was found off US. Highway 550 in Trimble, north of Durango.
Wildlife officers suspected a bear attack based on the trauma and obvious signs of consumption on the body and an abundance of ‘bear scat and hair’ at the scene.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the boyfriend, family and friends of the woman we lost in this tragic event,” said Cory Chick, CPW Southwest Region manager.
“We cannot determine with exact certainty how or why this attack took place, but it is important for the public not to cast blame on this woman for the unfortunate and tragic event.
“There are inherent risks anyone takes when venturing outdoors. That could be from wildlife, the landscape, weather events or other circumstances one cannot plan for.”
Besides finding human remains in two of the bears, CPW’s wildlife pathologist said she found nothing abnormal in the bears.
All three appeared to be healthy. Initial findings on the bears did not reveal any signs of disease or other abnormalities, but further histopathology and rabies testing will take up to two weeks to complete.
The bears were euthanised after the discovery.
“Whenever an animal is euthanised, we receive many questions about why that action was necessary,” said CPW Director Dan Prenzlow.
“Our responsibilities to the natural resources of the state are many, but we have no more important duty than to manage these resources in a manner that keeps Coloradans and our visitors safe.
“Euthanizing wildlife is never an action our officers take lightly, but we have an obligation to prevent additional avoidable harm.
“Once a bear injures or consumes humans, we will not risk the chance that this could happen to someone else. We humanely euthanize that bear because of the severity of the incident.”
Colorado has between 17,000 and 20,000 black bears and over the last two years, CPW received 10,312 reports of bear sightings.
The attack is the fourth fatal mauling in the state since records began in 1960.