Woman survives bear attack

Published 11:08 am Thursday, June 6, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS — A northern Minnesota woman was injured in a rare black bear attack after her dog startled an adult female and three yearlings that recently had been hanging around her home and raiding her bird feeder, officials said Wednesday.

Darlene Baglio, 72, was clawed on her left arm and side and bitten on her right arm and leg in the attack at her home near McGregor around 7 p.m. Monday. She was hospitalized overnight but went home Tuesday morning, said Maj. Phil Meier, enforcement operations manager for the Department of Natural Resources. A conservation officer killed the 190-pound mother bear as it charged him, the incident report said. Officials left the yearlings alone to fend for themselves, while the woman’s dog ran off and remained missing Wednesday afternoon.

It was only the fifth documented bear attack on a person in Minnesota that resulted in injuries since 1987 and the state’s first serious attack since 2005, DNR officials told reporters. The agency estimates the state’s bear population at around 12,000 to 15,000.

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“The reason it’s so rare is not because people don’t encounter bears frequently, it’s just because bears are very cautious of people and bears do not want to get themselves in a situation where they might have to attack a person,” DNR bear specialist Dave Garshelis said. “It’s just not in their nature to do that. They’re scared of us. They’re more scared of us than we are of them.”

DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen said the woman was traumatized by the attack. She did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

The woman, who’d seen the bears in her yard during the past few days, looked around before letting her golden retriever out Monday evening, said Maj. Phil Meier, the DNR’s enforcement operations manager. She didn’t see the bears until the yearlings took off from under her deck and the dog gave chase. She walked down to the bottom of her deck and yelled for her dog to come back.

That’s when the sow attacked her, Meier said, first clawing her left side and knocking her down, then coming back to bite her. She was able to go back inside and call 911.

An Aitkin County deputy soon arrived, and Baglio was taken to a nearby hospital. The conservation officer spotted the bears nearby and followed them into the woods, where the three yearlings climbed or attempted to climb up trees. But the mother ran toward him and shot it from 25 feet away, the report said.

Garshelis said this was not typical black bear behavior. He said officials surmise the bear felt stressed and confused because the dog was chasing its yearlings, then a person showed up yelling.

“To me this does not sound like a particularly bold bear, but a bear that was scared and put in an unusual situation to nobody’s fault,” he said.

While there are generally one or two fatal black bear attacks across the country annually, he said, none has been recorded in Minnesota, and there’s no common pattern among the state’s known attacks.

The three yearlings are expected to survive. Garshelis said bears are normally born in January and stay with their mother for 17 months. This is the start of breeding season so it’s about the time when the mother would chase them off anyway, he said. But he said it’s likely they’ll continue to hang around in the same area unless they were traumatized by their mother’s death.

DNR officials advised area residents and anyone else facing bear problems to make loud noises if they encounter a bear, and to remove potential sources of food such as bird feeders or pet food. Sunflower seeds from bird feeders make great food for hungry bears, Garshelis said.

“I’m assuming this incident would be enough to convince people in the area to take their bird feeders down, at least for a while,” he said.