A black bear seen in Benton County, Mo., on Tuesday could be the same one that was sighted in other west and central Missouri counties.
Missouri Department of Conservation Agent David Harms took a distant photo of the bear Tuesday afternoon about five miles west of Lincoln, Mo. The bear was in brush near a field beside Missouri C highway, according to a release from the Conservation Department.
Conservation officials believe this is the same bear that has been seen making its way through Barton, Vernon and Bates counties in recent weeks.
“We believe it’s the same bear because places where he’s been we are not seeing him any more, but suddenly there’s a bear somewhere else that is being reported,” said Bill Graham, a media specialist
with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “This indicates that it might be the same bear.”
Reports of the wandering bear started popping up earlier this month. In Vernon County, several residents in the Walker community northeast of Nevada reported seeing the animal. Missouri Department of Conservation Agent Justin Fogle confirmed the sighting when he found bear tracks in a corn field on June 5.
The bear was first reported to him June 4. It was also spotted June 5 and June 7.
A school teacher in Bates County spotted a bear in a field about eight miles southeast of Butler, Mo., on June 12.
Lacey Cook, who studied wildlife management in college and who has hunted black bears in Minnesota, told the Missouri Department of Conservation that the bear “was just kind of walking back and forth, wandering around. I think it’s pretty cool.”
It’s unusual for bears to be seen in west central Missouri. Black bears typically are found around the forests of southern Missouri counties.
The bear could be a young male, Jeff Beringer, a resource scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said in a news release. Beringer is leading a black bear study in Missouri to determine their numbers and range. Young males will roam from their home territories and usually keep moving until they find habitat with female bears.
Bears that have been trapped and outfitted with radio tracking collars for the study have headed north but always returned south. A few bears in past years did wander into north Missouri and on to Iowa but they did not survive, according to the Conservation Department. The bear spotted in recent weeks does not have a tracking collar.
The bears pose little threat to humans or livestock, Graham said. They tend to shy away from people. However, they should not be fed as they could become a nuisance or even a danger.
It’s illegal to kill a black bear in Missouri except to protect human life or personal property. Although the animals are native to Missouri, they were almost eliminated from the state after settlement in the 1800s and as their habitat was loss continued in the 1900s, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation Department.
Some bears returned to the state’s southern counties when they re-introduced in Arkansas in the 1950s. Since then, their numbers have slowly grown, mostly south of Interstate 44.
Missouri’s bear population is estimated to be between 150 to 300 animals in scattered habitats, Graham said. The current study is expected to develop a more accurate population estimate as well as a better idea of where the bears live.