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Florida woman recalls horror of bear attack

MIAMI (Reuters) - A woman mauled by a bear in central Florida earlier this month has spoken out publicly about the attack for the first time, telling state wildlife officials she thought she might die.

"That bear was trying to kill me, it just kept coming," said Susan Chalfant, who suffered injuries to her face and head during the December 2 incident in her secluded neighborhood in Seminole County.

Chalfant, 54, has declined media requests for interviews after surviving what officials have described as the worst reported bear attack on a human in Florida history.

In the report released on Tuesday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Chalfant told investigators she said she had just stepped out of her house for an evening stroll with her two dogs when a black bear charged at her from bushes nearby.

The "snarling and growling" beast stopped short of her location but "continued to lunge forward and then back away over and over," the report said.

As Chalfant backed away, hoping to retreat to her home, the bear circled her and cut off her escape route and knocked her to the ground, the report added. She got up but the bear pushed her down again, it added.

Chalfant said she fought back with her fists as the bear started biting her in the face and shaking her, trying to hit it and gouge the animal's eyes out. But she sustained multiple injuries before managing to get up and rush to a neighbor's house for help.

The extent of Chalfant's injuries was unclear, since she declined to be photographed or release any records kept by her medical providers, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

A commission investigator who saw Chalfant, before and after surgery, said he observed "deep, ragged lacerations on the face and head that appeared consistent with wounds inflicted by an animal's teeth."

The commission's report said investigators had concluded that Chalfant did nothing intentional to provoke the adult female bear that lunged at her. The animal, which was captured and later identified through DNA tests as the attacker, may be a "highly protective" mother who saw Chalfant as a threat to her three cubs.

Karen Parker, a wildlife commission spokeswoman, said the bear that mauled Chalfant was being held in a non-public area of Busch Gardens in Tampa with two of her cubs.

"In the springtime the plan is the two cubs will be released and she will be held in captivity for the rest of her life," Parker said.

Complaints about Florida black bears have jumped in the last decade, as urban and suburban sprawl brought more people into former wilderness areas where housing developments fractured areas well suited for bear habitat.

In addition to Chalfant, only 15 Floridians have been injured by bears since the first reported incident in 2006, however, and Parker said those injuries were all minor.

"This is the worst reported attack on a person in the state's history," Parker said.

(Reporting by Tom Brown; editing by Andrew Hay)

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