Fla. woman in critical condition following encounter with black bear

January 26th, 2015 by Staff

The incident occurred just before 4 pm Friday at the Wildlife Haven Sanctuary north of Dade City.

(WFLA.COM) DADE CITY, Fla. – A Pasco County woman is in critical condition after she was attacked by a Florida black bear.
It happened at the Wildlife Haven Sanctuary, on Christian Road, north of Dade City.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said 50-year-old Virginia Riggs visited the owner of the sanctuary around 3:46 pm. Friday.

The sanctuary houses numerous wild animals, including three Florida black bears. Officials say the two women walked over to a cage that was holding a 400 pound black bear named Abner.

When Riggs reached her hand inside the cage, she was attacked.

“There was food used to entice the bear over to the side of the cage, but whether she was trying to feed it or pet it or what kind of interaction she was trying to do with the bear is unknown,” said FWC officer Baryl Martin.

Riggs sustained injuries to her right arm so severe she was flown to Tampa General Hospital. She was last listed in critical condition.

Now officials are investigating.

“At this point, the animal is still in the cage, and until further investigation is concluded, there’s no determination on the outcome of this. It’s unfortunate. It was a moment of bad judgment, and I really do hope for Ms. Riggs’ full recovery,” Martin said.

The FWC says all cages at the sanctuary meet the proper standards. They said there have been no reported attacks or other problems at the sanctuary. 

No charges have been filed at this time.

The Sanctuary owner released this statement:

“As you can hopefully understand, the members of our rescue that were present this afternoon are pretty shaken over what happened, and we will unfortunately not be able to make any appearances this evening. However, we hope the following will provide some clarity.  

Earlier this afternoon, a friend of Wildlife Haven Sanctuary went beyond the secondary safety barrier of our bear enclosure and reached inside for reasons that are unknown at this time. As a result of that interaction, the individual was grabbed by one of the bears and suffered serious injuries. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and we ask the community to pray for her recovery, as well. 

We are working with local and state authorities to assist with their investigation and are complying fully.

As a result of this incident, we will be conducting our own internal review of our policies and procedures to determine how this happened, and we will do everything in our power to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. We will work with the state to determine whatever is best for the bear and for public safety.”

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