3 bears suspected in Payson attacks test negative for rabies [graphic images]


by Jennifer Thomas


Posted on June 26, 2012 at 9:32 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 27 at 4:01 PM

Viewers may find some of the photos in this story disturbing.

PAYSON, Ariz. -- DNA tests on three black bears that were captured and killed near Payson have come back negative for the rabies virus, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The bears are thought to be connected to three attacks in the Payson area in the last month, but officials are awaiting separate DNA test results for confirmation. If any of the bears are matched to the attacks, then the victims won't need a series of rabies vaccines.

Rabies testing was necessary to determine if the victims were exposed to the virus and can only be conducted on a deceased animal, making it necessary to lethally remove the bears.

Rabies is almost always fatal if an exposed person doesn't get a vaccine in time.

A 74-year-old woman sleeping in a tent in the Ponderosa Campground was attacked May 31. A construction worker was attacked June 21 while he was sleeping in an unfinished cabin in the Thompson Draw II community near Tonto Village. A 30-year-old Tempe man was attacked by a bear June 24 while sleeping in a tent in the Ponderosa Campground.

The Ponderosa, Christopher Creek and Sharp Creek campgrounds, all located along Highway 260, will remain closed until the Arizona Game and Fish Department feels confident campers are safe from further bear attacks.

The black bear population in Arizona is estimated to be near 3,000. Game and Fish officials said bears are rarely seen and when they are spotted, they typically run from humans.

There have been only 10 documented attacks in Arizona since 1990, although three have occurred in the past month.

According to officials, bears that become accustomed to and unafraid of traffic, noise and human activity, and particularly those that begin to associate people with food sources, are more likely to become involved in a human-wildlife conflict.