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Woman killed in Colorado bear attack died from neck puncture, autopsy finds

CPW wildlife officers and La Plata County Sheriff's deputies investigate the scene Saturday...
CPW wildlife officers and La Plata County Sheriff's deputies investigate the scene Saturday morning.(Colorado Parks and Wildlife)
Published: May. 1, 2021 at 11:25 AM MDT|Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 6:09 AM MDT
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TRIMBLE, Colo. (KKTV) - Human remains were found in two bears near Durango, confirming suspicions that a 39-year-old woman was killed in a rare bear attack last week.

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife pathologist recorded the finding after conducting necropsies on the mother bear and two yearlings suspected of killing and eating a Durango woman on April 30. An autopsy on the victim revealed the cause of her death was a “perforating injury to the neck.”

The victim was identified Tuesday as Laney Malavolta.

Malavolta is believed to have been walking with her two dogs when she encountered the bears, based information provided to the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office by her boyfriend. She reportedly last talked to him late in the morning on the 30th.

The boyfriend, whose name has not been released, told deputies he found the two dogs waiting outside the home he shared with his girlfriend, but there was no sign of her. He said he started searching the area and found her mauled body around 9:30 p.m.

“The boyfriend returned home about 8:30 p.m. and saw the dogs in the yard, and it had been a long time since he last heard from his girlfriend, so we went out searching the area,” said Jason Clay, Colorado Parks and Wildlife public information officer.

Responding CPW wildlife officers saw bear scat and hair at the scene.

“There was consumption on the body, and there was a lot of bear sign in the area,” Clay said.

A dog team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services was called in to search the area. The K9 team was able to find a female black bear and two yearlings nearby. Out of an abundance of caution, the bears were euthanized and then taken to CPW’s Wildlife Health Lab in Fort Collins.

“Whenever an animal is euthanized, we receive many questions about why that action was necessary,” said CPW Director Dan Prenzlow. “Our responsibilities to the natural resources of the state are many, but we have no more important duty than to manage these resources in a manner that keeps Coloradans and our visitors safe. Euthanizing wildlife is never an action our officers take lightly, but we have an obligation to prevent additional avoidable harm.”

Wildlife officials say that while bear attacks are exceedingly rare -- this is only the fourth known fatal attack in Colorado -- had these bears not been euthanized, they very likely would have gone after another human.

CPW says human remains were found in the mother bear’s stomach and in the stomach of one of the two yearlings.

“A third one, another of the yearlings did not have human remains in their digestive tract,” Clay said.

The April 30 attack reportedly happened off U.S. Highway 550 near Trimble, north of Durango.

For more information and tips on staying safe when hiking and camping in bear country, click here.

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