GREEN RIVER, Emery County — A Division of Wildlife Resources biologist who was accidentally struck in the hand by a tranquilizer dart that was intended for a bear was released from the hospital Wednesday morning.
The man, a 20-year employee of the agency, was airlifted Tuesday afternoon to Utah Valley Hospital in Provo after fellow employees were able to call 911 from the top of a remote ridge in the Book Cliffs in central Utah.
The man was able to make it to the top of that ridge to await the helicopter, but began feeling weak, officials said.
“We had him sit in the shade, gave him water to sip and kept him engaged and alert,” said Dax Mangus, regional wildlife manager for the DWR, in a statement. “As soon as we had cell service, we notified police dispatch and gave a GPS location."
The biologist was there with six other DWR employees, visiting the den of a black bear that had given birth to cubs in the winter of 2015-16, the agency said.
“We were curious to see if the cubs had survived,” Mangus said.
In addition to checking the area for surviving cubs, the team was there to tranquilize the bears, examine their condition and potentially replace the animals' tracking collars. The mother bear was located and successfully tranquilized, Mangus said.
"We ... noticed one yearling bear also in the den with her," he said. “We loaded another dart, and were ready to dart the yearling.”
That's when the biologist reloaded his pistol and it fired, striking him in the hand, said Bill Bates, wildlife section chief at DWR.
"He didn't even realize what had happened at first," Bates said. "He felt the sting, looked down and told everybody, 'Oh, I've been tranquilized.'"
The crew knew they needed to summon help right away, according to Mangus.
“We acted on our training,” he 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."
Emergency crews evaluated the biologist's vital signs and decided against giving him a reversal drug after weighing the risks of that drug's potential side effects, Bates said. The man fell asleep during the helicopter ride, but was alert again by the time it landed, he said.
The tranquilized biologist was home resting with his family after his release from the hospital, said Mike Canning, assistant DWR director. Animal tracking work can be risky by nature, he added.
"This experience is a good example of the risks our biologists often take, to manage and protect wildlife in Utah," Canning said in a statement.
Mangus said the outcome could have been worse if not for the team at the site getting help on the way as quickly as possible.
"We feel fortunate that we were able to develop a quick response to the incident and get appropriate medical help in a timely manner, despite being in such a remote location," he said. "We're so happy that he's going to be OK. He's an awesome co-worker and a great friend."
Bates praised the DWR employees for "how their training kicked in."
"These guys are going into .... a wilderness-like area and there's a lot going on there anyways," he said, pointing out the inherent risk of turning their attention away from the bears in the area. "I'm just proud of them."
Contributing: Mike Anderson