UTAH – A tranquilizer dart meant for a black bear cub didn’t hit its intended target Tuesday but rather a wildlife biologist who accidentally shot himself.
The biologist, a 20-year veteran with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, is recovering, DWR officials said Wednesday in a press statement detailing the incident.
“This experience is a good example of the risks our biologists often take, to manage and protect wildlife in Utah,” said Mike Canning, assistant DWR director. “We’re so thankful that he’s OK and that he’s back home with his family.”
The biologist was a part of a seven-member team visiting bear dens in the remote Book Cliffs area in eastern Utah Tuesday when the mishap occurred. The DWR team is able to keep track of bears that have been fitted with radio collars.
After locating the dens, biologists dart and tranquilize the bears, check their general body condition, replace worn radio collars and look for cubs.
The team had come across the den of a female black bear around noon Tuesday. She had given birth to two cubs during the 2015-16 winter.
“We were curious to see if the cubs had survived,” said Dax Mangus, regional wildlife manager for the DWR.
The DWR team darted the mother bear and outfitted her with a radio collar. They were also going to check on a yearling cub found with the mother when the mishap with the dart took place.
After loading the tranquilizer dart meant for the cub into a pump gun, Mangus said, it “accidentally discharged and struck the biologist in his hand.”
Coincidentally, out of the seven members of the DWR team present at the time, five had completed the agency’s annual “wildlife chemical immobilization training” two weeks ago.
“We acted on our training,” Mangus said. “We noted the time of injection, the dosage received and then we started monitoring his condition. We knew we had only 15 to 20 minutes before he possibly lost consciousness, so we knew we had to act fast.”
The team made a plan to get the injected biologist out of the area. Immediate obstacles they faced were not having cell phone reception or any place a responding medical helicopter could safely land.
“So, we made a plan.” Mangus said.
Two people walked with the injected biologist to a higher spot where they could get better reception and a helicopter could land. Another pair were sent to get their vehicles while the remaining two began packing up their materials and went to a ridge where the first two had taken their biologist comrade.
At about 2:45 p.m., a helicopter arrived and the biologist was flown to the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center where he was treated.
He was released on the morning of March 15 and is now resting and recovering with his family. Respecting his and his family’s request, the DWR is not releasing the biologist’s name at this time.
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