For nearly a century, the only bears known to reside in Missouri were on the state flag or in captivity. Unregulated hunting and habitat loss had wiped out most black bears in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma by the 1920s. Now, thanks to a reintroduction program in Arkansas during the 50s and 60s, hundreds of bears amble through the forests of southern Missouri, according to a joint study by University of Missouri, Mississippi State University, and Missouri Department of Conservation biologists. The study was published last April in the Journal of Mammalogy.
The researchers warn that although the bear population is still small, outdoor recreationists and homeowners should take precautions in the Ozark forest to avoid attracting bears. The Missouri Department of Conservation’s website provides information on how to achieve this and also how to avoid conflicts with bears in Missouri:
Bears are normally shy of humans and quickly get out of our way when they see us. If you spot a bear on a trail, if a bear is trying to get at food in your yard or campsite, or if a bear tries to approach you, here is how you should react:
- Do not approach the bear to get a better look. Slowly back away while watching the bear and wait for it to leave.
- If you are near a building or car, get inside as a precaution. If the bear was attracted to food or garbage, make sure it is removed after the bear leaves to discourage the bear from returning.
- If you are with others, stay together and act as a group. Make sure that the bear has a clear escape route, then yell and wave your arms to make yourself look bigger. Bang pots and pans — make noise somehow.
- Do not climb a tree — black bears are excellent tree climbers.
- A bear may stand upright to get a better view, make huffing or “popping” sounds, swat or beat the ground with its forepaws or even bluff charge — this means that you are too close. Back off and give the bear more space. If the bear comes within range, use pepper spray if you have it.
- If a bear is in a tree, leave it alone. Remove people and dogs from the area. The bear will usually come down and leave when it feels safe.
- It is important to keep dogs away from a bear. While a well-trained dog may deter a bear, a poorly trained one may only excite it.
- Call the Missouri Department of Conservation — we are prepared to help!
Eggert and her colleagues used the genetic fingerprints of bears in Missouri to trace their origin back to Arkansas, where thousands of bears now roam. The majority of these animals appear to be descendents of bears originally reintroduced to the region from populations in Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada. Surprisingly, some of the Missouri bears analysed by Eggert’s team had genetic signatures that suggested they were not descended from the northern bears. Further testing may prove that a tiny population of bears managed to survive unnoticed in the Ozark wilderness after the rest of the region’s population had died out.
“The larger the gene pool of bears in the region, the healthier the population will be as it recovers,” said Eggert. “If they do indeed exist, these remnant populations of black bears may serve as valuable reservoirs of genetic diversity.”
If the Missouri population recovers sufficiently, officials someday may allow human hunters to stalk the Show-Me-State’s black bears, noted Eggert. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission allows limited bear hunting in October and November.
(Source: University of Missouri news release, 17.07.2013)