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Colorado Camp Counselor Awakes To Find Bear Biting His Head

Updated 4:30 p.m. ET

A camp counselor in Colorado awoke Sunday morning to a crunching sound that turned out to be his own head in the mouth of a bear.

"The crunching noise was I guess the teeth scraping against the skull as it dug in," the 19-year-old counselor, identified only as Dylan, told Denver7.

He and four other counselors were in sleeping bags along a lakefront about 45 miles northwest of Denver, as 12- and 13-year-old campers slept in teepees nearby, the Associated Press reported.

Dylan said the bear clawed his forehead and then bit the back of his head and began dragging him. As the young man punched and hit the bear, fellow camp staffers tried to scare the animal away.

The bear dragged Dylan 10 to 12 feet.

"When it was dragging me — that was the slowest part," he told the TV channel. "It felt like it went forever."

Dylan was taken to the hospital, where he received nine staples to close the wounds.

The attack is one of a number of recent bear-related incidents. Last week, a woman in Idaho was attacked while walking her dogs, and four bears were killed on Wednesday in the Durango, Colo., area. In June, two young people were killed by bears in separate attacks in Alaska.

A spokeswoman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife tells NPR its officers put three traps on the property and dispatched their best houndsman with a dog to track the bear's scent on Sunday.

And early Monday morning, baited with camp cafeteria food, one of the traps caught a 240-pound, adult male black bear.

CPW spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill says Dylan asked to see the bear himself; he looked at the animal and believes it was the one that attacked him. Officials transported the bear to a wildlife health lab in Fort Collins, where it was killed.

State wildlife officials will now conduct an autopsy on the animal, to determine whether it was suffering an illness or injury that might have spurred the unprovoked attack, and also to confirm whether it's the bear that attacked Dylan.

Churchill says that Colorado has a very healthy population of black bears, and that it's important that wildlife retain a fear of humans. And, she says, it's the state agency's responsibility to kill animals that could kill people.

"This is a dangerous bear," Churchill says. "This could have been a fatality."

Back at Glacier View Ranch, Dylan will probably have the best campfire story for many summers to come — especially since he teaches wilderness survival.

"I'm not afraid of the bears," he told Denver7. "I'm not afraid of sleeping outside anymore. You just have to be aware and respect the animals."

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.