A runner was attacked by a mother bear on Saturday afternoon while taking part in a permitted marathon in Valles Caldera National Preserve near Jemez Springs, New Mexico. The bear, a mother with cubs, was later euthanized to test for rabies.
According to a statement by Valles Caldera National Preserve, the female American black bear attacked when the individual, Karen Williams, came upon the bear’s cubs along a backcountry road being used as the event route. The incident occurred in the southwest corner of the preserve, known as Banco Bonito, approximately seven miles away from the Valle Grande.
Williams was part of a marathon being conducted on the preserve under a special use permit. After the attack, the victim was found by another runner and evacuated by a helicopter. The runner was taken to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque for treatment and is expected to recover from the injuries.
“Hi guys, I was the person who got into the tussle with the bear,” Williams wrote on Facebook, thanking the many people who helped her after the incident.
Williams was at the 23.5 mile-mark according to her Garmin GPS watch, she wrote, topping out a hill. She continued:
“When I topped it a bear was charging me. She was about 15 ft away. I raised my arms and yelled “NO!” then saw the cub. Then I was on my ass and being raked with claws and bitten. I cried out in pain and Mama bear did not like that so she hit me with a left hook and bit my neck and started to try to shake me. I rolled into a ball and played dead. She went off about 25 – 30 feet and stopped at the base of a tree and huffed at her cub that was up about 30 feet.”
“The cub cried a bit while trying to get down the tree. Mama bear kept glancing my way to make sure that I was still “dead”. I was at that point afraid I might die. I didn’t know what the wound on my neck was like because I did not move for fear she would come wail on me some more. I waited about 10 minutes until the huffing she was doing was gone and I couldn’t hear the cub anymore.”
Williams reported that help arrived in the form of fellow runner Ken O’Connor about 33 minutes later, initiating aid and evacuation.
Bear Euthanized After Attack
The park has come under fire after the bear was euthanized by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to test for rabies pursuant to New Mexico state law. Officials intend to capture the cubs for relocation into a wildlife center, but it’s unclear if this has yet been accomplished.
Some people are saying events of this nature should not be held on wild lands due to the risks involved.
As supporters of trail running, we’d like to note that this is an extremely rare and isolated incident. Contact with wild animals does take place while trail running, but the case of a bear attacking a runner instead of fleeing is nearly impossible to predict.
In the 2000s, there have been an average of just three fatal bear attacks on humans in North America per year. In the wild, you are much more likely to die from hypothermia, a heart attack, lightning, or even an avalanche.
Yet for those who do venture into bear country, we recommend carrying bear spray as a deterrent, hanging food high away from camp or using a bear canister, and reducing food smells from campsites.
“Our deepest thoughts and sympathies are with the individual during their recovery from the injuries,” said Jorge Silva-Bañuelos, superintendent of Valles Caldera National Preserve.