A large, male bear that had subsisted for years, and grown fat, on foraged human food was killed Tuesday by wildlife officers after it gained entry to a home in southwest Colorado Springs, trashed a kitchen and spent about six hours gorging and roaming the house while the homeowner slept.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife said the animal’s size, behavior and markings confirm it was the same bear that, in late June, was discovered eating ice cream and M&Ms snatched from a Broadmoor-area home and, only days later, a few blocks away, trapped neighbor Denielle Backstrom in her SUV while it prowled around her garage.
“Our biologist believes it had learned the cues of the sound of a garage door opening. It had learned that the sound of a garage door opening meant dinner,” said Bill Vogrin, public information officer for Parks and Wildlife. “This bear was so fat from eating human food it couldn’t climb a tree ... so it made a bed under a tree.”
Despite its taste for human food, the bear managed to avoid two traps baited with doughnuts, icing, syrup and dog food, after Backstrom’s encounter, Vogrin said.
The bear’s latest invasion began around 11 p.m. Monday and was captured by security cameras. The recording shows the 375-pound creature wandering into the kitchen of Chris O’Dubhraic’s Brandywine Drive home in Broadmoor Bluffs and casing the room briefly before rising on its hind legs and tugging open the refrigerator door.
“It slipped its paw into the handle, opened it and went to town. It opened up the pantry and trashed the pantry, and opened up the cabinets above the refrigerator,” Vogrin said. “Then it roamed throughout the house and went in every open door, including two bedrooms.”
O’Dubhraic said he had just stocked his refrigerator and freezer after a trip to Costco, so the bear had plenty of options — devouring strawberries, blueberries, cherries, pineapples and organic apple oatmeal. If the bear was looking for meat, it was out of luck; O’Dubhraic is a vegetarian.
The bear didn’t stop at the refrigerator. He opened kitchen drawers, ripped a pantry door off its hinges and threw food on the floor, O’Dubhraic said. The bear somehow even opened a kitchen trash compactor, yanking out the metal unit and twisting it sideways.
“It takes an enormous amount of strength, something I could never do,” O’Dubhraic said. The damage to his house, likely in the thousands of dollars, “was kind of catastrophic,” he said.
Despite the ruckus, O’Dubhraic was asleep upstairs, behind a closed door, and didn’t wake until around 5:30 a.m. An environmental engineer who lives alone, he said he had returned in the past week from a 31/2-month business trip to Asia; he’s adjusting to the time change and said he has a tough time staying awake past 5 p.m.
When O’Dubhraic came downstairs not long after the bear departed and saw the state of his kitchen, he called 911. He never saw the bear in his house, but at one point thought he heard it.
“I got in the kitchen, I heard some rustling and some noise, and a shiver went up my spine,” O’Dubhraic said. “It was just the shudders.”
He found paw prints on the refrigerator and freezer, scratches on his cabinets, and the animal had urinated several times — likely marking the house as a place it could find food and a sign it planned to return, O’Dubhraic said officials told him.
The bear accessed the home through a crank-style window on the first floor that was damaged in a recent windstorm and had been left ajar.
“The bear popped it open and broke off the crank mechanism and came in the window,” Vogrin said. “This was a smart bear, a dangerous bear, so it was only a matter of time before someone got hurt. We’re lucky it didn’t happen last night.”
Officers from Vogrin’s department were joined by wildlife service officers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who responded because of the elevated risk of imminent threat to human health and safety. They arrived on scene soon after O’Dubhraic’s call, with a plan to locate, tranquilize and remove the bear, which weighed about 75 pounds more than the top weight expectations for a male his age. A KOAA TV reporter who happened to be on the scene spotted the animal in a neighbor’s yard and alerted a wildlife officer.
“The bear turned and came roaring through the scrub oak — toward Christopher’s house — and one of the USDA officers was waiting for him,” Vogrin said. “He was positioned high and shot down on the bear ... around 10 a.m. It was one shot — a very safe, clean, efficient shot so there was no risk to neighboring houses.”
Based on conversations with neighbors, wildlife officers learned the bear repeatedly had been spotted rummaging through trash cans, with sightings and less-intrusive encounters dating back years, Vogrin said.
It’s believed that the bear’s roamings were contained to a roughly 1-mile radius, Vogrin said. Had residents contacted his department when the uncharacteristic behavior first was noticed, Tuesday’s outcome — and the potentially deadly close encounters that necessitated it — could have been avoided.
“If they had called us four years ago, we could have scared it back in the woods and taught it that humans are to be feared and homes avoided. Instead it learned humans are not to be feared and homes are a source of food,” Vogrin said.
Parks and Wildlife officers tag and relocate an estimated 100 bears, and euthanize about 100 more, each year in Colorado. At least one other bear has been put down this year in the Pikes Peak region by officers with the agency’s Colorado Springs office — a nuisance bear that returned to a Teller County youth camp after being relocated.
“This is a bad day for our officers. They don’t like doing this,” Vogrin said. “We would ask the public again: Call us when you see bears in garages. Call us when you see them raiding garbage cans and trash. Help us keep them alive.”