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Student chased, 'nipped' by black bear during thesis trip

By Nathan Tafoya
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
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Adolescent bear put down after pursuing archeology master's candidate for two miles

Attending a university and getting an education is usually a good thing, but as any student will tell you, schoolwork has its downsides.

Though those downsides are usually limited to such things as balancing school and work and stressful exam schedules, one UA student experienced a very unusual pitfall of scholarship last week.

On July 6, an adolescent black bear attacked a graduate student and teaching assistant, Lauren, while she conducted an archeological survey for her master's thesis in Forestdale Valley near the Mogollon Rim.

Lauren, who asked that only her first name be used (too many people have contacted her to swap their own bear stories), was in camp with almost 30 other students and staff on the White Mountain Apache reservation, but was alone when the attack occurred around 1:15 p.m.

Lauren said she was on site reconnaissance when the bear jumped down onto a hill about 50 feet from her position and charged.

"I climbed to the other side of a barbed wire fence that I was next to and I started making lots of noise and yelling and trying to make myself look big like they tell you to do when a bear is coming at you," said Lauren.

Lauren knew she was not supposed to run so she began walking away while still yelling and attempting to make herself appear larger.

"The bear came through the fence at me, so I dove through another fence and he came through that one, at which point I dropped all my stuff and started to run," said Lauren.

The bear then bit Lauren on the back of her calf causing her to fall down.

Lauren said she got up, ran through a field, down and then up a drainage canal and through another barbed wire fence onto the highway.

"The bear followed me across the highway and I was able to flag down a truck and jump in the back of their cab," she continued. "The bear followed the truck - he was about six feet from the truck when I got in it - and he followed the truck as it drove away."

In all, the bear chased Lauren for a total of about two miles. Lauren, who said she does not often run for pleasure or health, said adrenaline helped her keep going.

"I was hyperventilating for like an hour afterwards," she said.

Lauren described the bear's size as reaching her mid thigh on all fours and probably able to look into her eyes standing on its haunches. Lauren is 5'6."

Game and Fish officials told Lauren the adolescent bear might have been frightened by her arrival or might have only been playing with her.

"It just nipped me on the back of my leg," she said, explaining that she had not wanted the bear killed. "It didn't like sink its teeth into me. I mean, it took a big chunk of skin, but the wound itself is only about two inches wide and it never growled at me or tried to jump on me.'

"It could have at any point when I went through the fences or down the drainage. It probably could have pounced on me and taken me out if it wanted to."

Regardless of its intent, the unusual behavior of chasing someone for two miles was deemed too aggressive and Arizona Game and Fish put the bear down.

"It's every field director's nightmare to have one of your crew members get hurt, so I was very concerned, of course," said Barbara Mills, UA professor and director of the Archeological Field School, about when she heard of the attack.

"Fortunately, she was able to walk out of the hospital and when I went to pick her up, she was in good spirits."

A fiberoptic cable carrying telephone lines had been cut the same afternoon as the attack. Even emergency phones were down for a couple of hours, so Mills did not find out about the incident until the hospital sent an Arizona Game and Fish officer to her door with the news.

"The student is a heroine in my book," said Mills.

And Lauren, though she says she doesn't like to relive the events, seems to be taking the incident ... in stride.

"I have like multiple lacerations on my legs and stuff and bruises and all sorts of stuff, mostly from running through the barbed wire fences," said Lauren. "The bear only bit me once on the back of my calf. Yeah, so it's not all that exciting."

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