In North Carolina we do not concern ourselves with the presence of free roaming lions and tigers but bears, OH MY!! A 300 pound black bear was recently seen running through a playground in Eastern North Carolina, and only a few days earlier, an adolescent black bear visited a Community College Campus. Since these bear sightings are so close to home, it’s best that we get it all out on the table to keep ourselves, as well as the bears, safe. We don’t get many calls at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport regarding Black Bears, which is the only bear species found in North Carolina, but when we do, it’s usually a “What do I do?” call about sightings in their yard or at a business. Our advice is always focused on safety such as don’t keep your garbage cans close to the house and do not leave pet food on the deck when you know bears are in the area. We also provide phone numbers for County Wildlife Control Officers who are authorized and have the means to tranquilize and relocate bears, if necessary. Black Bears once dipped to very low population levels in the 90’s, but the comeback of the American Black bear is one of wildlife management’s greatest achievements in our state. It’s thrilling for many of us to view bears from a distance (key word – distance), but you should never approach it, try to feed it or leave food out for the bear. When you feed a bear, you are training a bear to expect hand outs from humans, and a trained bear is not a tame bear. Black Bears are omnivores, but approximately 75 to 85% of their diet is vegetable matter. Common foods in our area include clover, dandelions, tubers, wild berries, persimmons, pecans, acorns, wild oats, honey and the larvae of ants, bees, hornets and other insects. Our coastal bears also rely on agricultural crops such as wheat, soybeans, peanuts and corn. Black Bears are not very effective predators but will occasionally snag a prey animal. When natural foods are scarce or if they have experienced human hand outs, they can be attracted to homes, campgrounds or garbage dumps. Once a bear has been lured by people into bad habits, it becomes a danger and will probably have to be killed, an enormous loss of an extraordinarily majestic animal and just as huge a loss for people who want to responsibly enjoy observing a bear. Yes, they are unique and intriguing, but they are still wild animals, large and capable wild animals, and this magnificent animal should be treated with healthy respect. Black Bears in North Carolina are usually black with a brown muzzle and a white patch on its chest. They have five toes on each foot with curved claws at the end of each toe enabling them to feed on insects and grubs in rotting logs. Although their eyesight is poor, they are adept at climbing, swimming, digging and running in which they have been clocked at 35 miles per hour. Bears prefer large expanses of uninhabited woodland or swampland with dense cover. In the east, lowland hardwoods, swamps and marshes provide good bear habitat because these terrains offer necessary travel paths, escape cover and natural foods that bears need to grow strong. Male bears, called boars, grow significantly larger than females and can weigh 500-600 pounds. However, North Carolina history gives Craven County props for the largest and current world record Black Bear tipping the scales at a whopping 880 lbs! Females, called sows, generally average between 250–300 pounds and usually birth two to four, 8 to 10 ounce cubs in the January time frame, who grow quickly on mother’s milk. Their dens are usually built in tree and ground cavities or in hollowed out logs, which they line with leaves, sticks and grasses. The cubs emerge from their den in early March but stay close, as they will continue to be nursed by Mom and stay with her for almost eighteen months. By the time they reach six months they weigh between 10 to 15 pounds, not much larger than an average house cat. This time of year, cubs will be roaming with their Mom, and females guarding their young will aggressively protect her babies from any perceived threat, including you. You never want to get between a mother and her young. If you see a cub, pay attention, don’t go anywhere near it, and know that the mother is not far away. Bears are intelligent, have keen senses of smell and hearing but fairly poor vision. They can usually see movement but might not be able to determine what it is. A Black Bear may appear to be docile and uninterested in your presence, but all wildlife can be unpredictable. Park Rangers and wildlife biologists advise that if a black bear approaches you, get big by waving your arms and also get loud, but do not run or climb a tree! They are faster and more efficient at both those physical activities than humans. Make as much noise as you can; clap, yell, throw rocks or bang on something. If you are holding food, throw it as far from you as possible. Black bears are generally shy and when you stand your ground they will avoid the commotion in most cases. A human’s change in attitude or perception will help keep people and bears safe. Bears do not have to be perceived as dangerous animals, but they are also not cuddly pets! Willfully approaching a bear within 50 yards is illegal and violation of this federal regulation can result in fines and arrest. In the grand scheme of things, humans and bears were not really made to interact. According to Cherokee Legend, a bear is a “Keeper of Dreams, so in that same spirit of romancing the wild, it would be best to maintain a dream’s distance to ensure your own safety and that of the bear’s.
Have a safe and happy SUMMER!!
author of “Save Them All“