FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – A Colorado Parks and Wildlife pathologist found human remains inside the stomachs of a sow and her yearling bear. Wildlife officers suspect that the bears killed and ate a 39-year-old woman. The attack happened on Friday, north of Durango.

The pathologist found the human remains in the digestive systems of the black bears Saturday night when she conducted necropsies of three bears at a CPW health lab in Fort Collins. CPW said that a necropsy is a scientific dissection and examination of an animal, similar to an autopsy of a human.

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(credit: CPW)

No human remains were found in the stomach of the second yearling, which was euthanized with the other two. The La Plata County coroner is expected to determine the official cause of death and identify the remains during an autopsy Tuesday.

The three bears were found near the woman’s body after a search by CPW wildlife officers.

The woman’s body was found off U.S. 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 in a statement. “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.”

The pathologist found nothing abnormal in the bears. All three appeared to be healthy. The adult female bear weighed 204 pounds. The yearlings weighed 58 and 66 pounds, respectively.

All three bears were in good condition with adequate fat stores appropriate for the season (black bears typically lose between 20-27% of their body fat during hibernation).

(credit: CPW)

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.

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The La Plata County Sheriff’s office alerted CPW on Friday evening of the woman’s death because CPW is responsible for conserving and managing the wildlife in Colorado. The bears were euthanized in accordance with established CPW directives.

“Whenever an animal is euthanized, 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.”

Chick said it was very likely the bears would attack humans again.

“Once a bear injures or consumes humans, we will not risk the chance that this could happen to someone else,” Chick said. “We humanely euthanize that bear because of the severity of the incident.

“Bears will return to a food source over and over. A bear that loses its fear of humans is a dangerous animal. And this sow was teaching its yearlings that humans were a source of food, not something to fear and avoid.”

Over the last two years, CPW received 10,312 reports of bear sightings and conflicts statewide. Of those, 3,389 involved garbage, a major attractant and source of bear conflicts.

Another 879 bear conflict reports involved bears forcefully breaking into homes, dwellings or garages. That is a result of a bear’s behavior dangerously escalating due to people’s inability or unwillingness to secure food attractants, and ultimately leads to the unnecessary death of bears.

“Residents and visitors of bear habitat in Colorado need to be educated and informed to use the very best techniques and behaviors to minimize any bear access to human food sources,” Chick said. “Food-conditioned bears, or habituated bears, looking for an easy handout such as your backyard bird feeder, can develop aggressive and dangerous behavior. For these bears, humans become an inconvenience when we are in the way of the food the bear is seeking. They are no longer fearful, and this is behavior we cannot allow. ”

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