AboutZoos, Since 2008


Black Bears return to Mis­souri indi­cates healthy forests

pub­lished 21 July 2013 | mod­i­fied 30 May 2014

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:

What To Do If You Encounter a Bear
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!

Although some Mis­souri­ans may be con­cerned, the return of black bears to Mis­souri is actu­ally a good sign. It means parts of the state’s forests are return­ing to a healthy bio­log­i­cal bal­ance after nearly two cen­turies of inten­sive log­ging and exploitation
Lori Eggert, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of bio­log­i­cal sci­ences, Col­lege of Arts and Sci­ence, Uni­ver­sity of Missouri »

Black-Bear Missouri“Black bears nor­mally do not attack humans, but they will ran­sack pic­nic bas­kets, tear through garbage bags or even enter build­ings look­ing for food,” she said.

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)

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