By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A black bear made famous by an Internet photo of it falling from a tree after being tranquilized was struck by two cars and killed on a highway in Colorado this week, authorities said on Friday.
The 280-pound (128 kg) bear, which was tagged and relocated to the mountains about 50 miles from the city of Boulder last week, was killed on Thursday morning, Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said.
Last week, the three-year-old bear was spotted in a tree outside a student housing complex at the University of Colorado.
Crowds gathered to observe the animal, and a photographer with the school's student newspaper captured a shot of it with arms and legs splayed as it fell from the tree after wildlife officers shot it with a tranquilizer dart.
The bear was not injured in the fall. The photo went viral on the Internet and "the falling bear" even garnered its own Facebook page and Twitter account.
Despite being relocated to the mountains, the bear returned to the city and was killed about two miles (three km) from the campus, having crossed greenbelts and irrigation ditches in search of food, Churchill said.
Colorado State Patrol spokesman Trooper Josh Lewis said both cars that hit the bear "were totaled," and one of the motorists was treated for minor injuries.
Colorado is home to about 12,000 black bears and Churchill said a dry winter had stressed the bears' normal food supply of chokecherry and serviceberry bushes, so they will look for food in urban areas. She said young male bears search for new territory when they wake from winter hibernation.
"If a bear finds a food source it will return even if it's in town," Churchill said. "This could be a tough year for bears."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Brunnstrom)