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Bear hunt: Florida officials search for animal that mauled woman's face

By Holly Yan and John Zarrella, CNN
updated 3:47 PM EST, Wed December 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A woman walking her dogs near Orlando was injured in a "bear incident"
  • Unprovoked black bear attacks in Florida are extremely rare
  • Neighbors say bear sightings are common, especially before trash pickups
  • Biologists say humans are now living in areas that bears once called home

(CNN) -- It's not being called a bear attack yet. But authorities are setting traps and scouring parts of central Florida for the animal that mauled a woman and left her face severely injured.

The woman, identified as 54-year-old Susan Chalfant, was walking her dogs in Longwood when she was wounded. Her face bloodied, she rushed to the house of a neighbor, who called 911.

"She thinks it was a bear," the neighbor said in the 911 call.

"How old is she?" the dispatched asked.

"I can't tell," the neighbor replied. "She's so bloodied, I can't tell."

Authorities say the woman is resting in a hospital.

Florida Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Karen Parker said officials aren't ready to call the case a bear "attack" yet because it's not clear what led up to the incident.

"We're calling it a bear incident simply because we simply don't know what happened," Parker said.

"Bears are very, very elusive. They're pretty much more afraid of you than you are of them, and normally when they see a human and they've not been fed and have not been habituated -- they're going to run away. They don't want to encounter us any more than we want to encounter them."

A common sight

Neighbors in Longwood, north of Orlando, say bears often roam through the area -- especially when looking for food thrown out by humans.

"There's an actual walkway of the bears between my home and the immediate neighbor," said one resident, who only wanted to be identified as Richard. "We see them on a regular basis, especially the nights before garbage pickups."

Wildlife officials say if homeowners aren't careful with their trash, the bears will keep showing up.

"Unless we get the full cooperation with everybody in every neighborhood around here, the bears are going to come in for a free lunch," Parker said.

Whose territory?

Unprovoked black bear attacks in Florida are extremely rare. The first one ever documented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was last year.

The problem, biologists say, is that people are now living in areas that bears once called home. And bears like to roam.

If wildlife officials catch a bear in the traps, they'll try to determine if it's the same one that injured the woman through DNA testing. If the results match up, the bear will likely be euthanized.

12-year-old bear attack survivor: 'I just thought I was going to die'

CNN's John Couwels contributed to this report.

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