Arizona Game and Fish is hunting a bear that ripped through a couple’s tent early Thursday morning in a popular campground just east of Payson.
The bear reportedly swiped a couple’s tent and clawed the head of a 74-year-old woman sleeping inside. The woman was treated at Payson Regional Medical Center for non-threatening injuries and released.
The attack prompted Tonto National Forest officials to close Ponderosa Campground and the surrounding area until Aug. 31.
David Daniels, wildlife manager with Game and Fish, said he had been looking for the bear since soon after the attack, but had not located it as of Thursday night.
Daniels is using hounds from a wildlife services group out of Springerville to aid in the search.
“We had hounds out to try and track the bear, but it just got too hot and they couldn’t pick up a scent,” he said. “When it cools down, we will have them back out.”
Once found, the bear will be killed, Daniels said.
“We have to find the bear because it went into a tent and attacked a person and that is just behavior from wildlife that we can’t let happen.”
The bear had reportedly been lingering in the area for some time. The campground host told Daniels he had seen the bear several times before the attack, coming in at night to feast on overloaded dumpsters.
Early Thursday morning, the bear got more brazen and moved from the trash containers to campsites in the campground, located just off Highway 260 about 10 miles east of Payson.
Around 4:30 a.m., the bear tore through the couple’s tent where the woman, her husband and dog were sleeping.
After tearing open the tent, the bear reportedly stuck its head in and clawed at the woman, leaving her with bruises and a laceration on the scalp. The woman’s husband and dog were not hurt, according to Game and Fish.
This is the first time Daniels could recall a bear attacking a person in the campground.
Bears often travel into populated areas in the summertime, looking for food and water.
This bear had broken into three dumpsters at the campground, Daniels said.
After the bear ran off from the couple’s campsite, it reportedly walked over to another site looking for food. Campers there chased it off, he said.
Roughly 20 people were staying in the campground, occupying less than half of the sites.
The couple did not have food in their tent, so Daniels is unsure why it tried to get in.
Game and Fish will test the bear for rabies.
Along with the campground, several roads are closed, including FR 405-A, FR 405, FR 893, FR 1625 and Forest Trail 37.
For more information on the area closure, visit www.fs.usda.gov/tonto or call the Payson Ranger District office at (928) 474-7900.