DWR biologist flown to hospital after accident with tranquilizer dart meant for bear cub

SALT LAKE CITY -- A biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is recovering after he shot himself with a bear tranquilizer.

On Tuesday around noon, a team of seven DWR biologists traveled to Book Cliffs, southeast of Salt Lake City, to check on a bear and her cubs that she had last year.

The DWR makes annual checks on the state's bear population, monitoring to see if the cubs survived the year.

The team had tranquilized the mother bear, called a sow. She is typically between 150 to 180 pounds this time of year. Then they changed doses to use a smaller dose for one of the bear cubs they could see in the den. They are typically 80 to 90 pounds this time of year.

One biologist noticed they were having issues with the tranquilizer air pump gun, and while he was working with it he accidentally shot himself in the hand.

“The biologist looked down and felt a sting in his hand and all of a sudden told everybody, ‘Oh, I've been struck by a dart,’” said Bill Bates, a DWR wildlife section chief.

Bill Bates has been monitoring bear populations for 35 years in Utah. He was not there on Tuesday afternoon with the team, but he explained what happened to the 20-year veteran biologist who shot himself.

“He immediately asked one of the biologists to help him to the top of the ridge because they were in a deep canyon,” Bates said. “This is about the size of a dart that they used, it had probably about two to three CCs of Ketamine and one of Xylazine.”

Bates said the biologists all had brushed up on their recent training on staying safe while in the field, and the victim knew he had about ten minutes before the drugs took effect. He was able to climb back onto the ridge of the canyon with two other biologists to help him. There he waited to be Life-Flighted out of the area to a hospital.

Barbara Crouch, Poison Control Executive Director, said humans use a similar compound in hospital settings, but she said that biologist was lucky the dose was not larger.

“From a standpoint in animals, they are going to much more potent, especially if it’s used for a large animal--so they can be deadly,” Crouch said.

Thankfully, the dose was small and the biologist was well prepared for any errors, so he did not go into hibernation.