Bear attack victim wants change in New Mexico wildlife law

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – A New Mexico marathon runner who was attacked by a black bear is pushing to change the state law that forced wild officials to kill the animal.

Karen Williams tells the Santa Fe New Mexican in an interview published Tuesday that the female bear that charged and mauled her was acting on its protective instincts to defend its cubs. It shouldn’t have been killed, she said.

Williams was treated at an Albuquerque hospital for bites, scratches and a fractured eye socket after the June 18 attack in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The 53-year-old was competing in the Valles Calderas Runs organized race when she reached a hilltop and unknowingly startled the bear and at least one of its cubs, which ran up a tree.

A day later, state wildlife officials tracked the female bear in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains and killed it, saying state law mandates euthanizing any animal that attacks a human. Authorities also must test the animal’s brain for rabies.

The bear’s cubs were found a week after the attack and taken to a nearby wildlife center.

Williams says officials should be allowed more discretion to weigh the circumstances surrounding an attack before making a decision on whether to put down an animal. Similar policies are already in place in many states on the East Coast, the New Mexican reported.

Meanwhile, bears in Yellowstone National Park aren’t killed unless they prey or feed on a human.

In Williams’ case, the bear wasn’t preying on her, she said. And it also tested negative for rabies.

She said the state could pay for precautionary rabies shots for a person after an attack, as an alternative to euthanizing the animal to test it for the deadly virus that’s rare among bears.

Not a single bear has tested positive for rabies in the past two decades, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

Williams says she sent a letter to the governor protesting the law that mandates euthanizing animals that attack humans. She also plans to petition the state Water and Natural Resources Committee at a meeting next month in Alamogordo.

“I’m probably the only person who can spearhead (a change- because of the momentum, because of the press,” she said.

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