Local bear moves on

What to do if you see a bear

by Wes Mayer

In the last week, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources received a number of reports of a bear being spotted in southwest Coweta County.

On Wednesday, department rangers searched Coweta County for the bear but were unable to locate it. The Department of Natural Resources has not heard any more reports of sightings in the last few days, said Dr. Theron Menken, a biologist with the Region IV of the department, so the department believes this bear has moved on.

But it brings to attention that it is that time of year, when bears are beginning to be seen in areas they normally do not inhabit. According to Menken, this is the time when the younger bears start to look for a suitable territory, but at the same time, the older, larger bears are chasing the younger ones away from their own territories. So these younger bears wander into areas where there tends to be more people.

“People don’t tolerate [bears] very well when they start moving into their habitats,” Menken said.

The bear population in Georgia is expanding, Menken said. At the moment, the majority of bears live in the north Georgia mountains, but there are also habitats in middle Georgia around Macon and in south Georgia around the Okefenokee Swamp.

These bears are black bears, according to Menken, and they are much smaller than brown bear or grizzly bears. The largest black bear can reach around 500 pounds while a grizzly easily can weigh more than 1,000 pounds – but Menken said the younger males people may see in Coweta County will only be around 100 or 200 pounds.

Black bears also have omnivorous diets – meaning they eat fruits, berries, insects and small mammals, Menken said. Grizzlies and brown bears are much more carnivorous, and grizzlies especially will prey on large animals like deer or moose.

Menken said that black bears can be dangerous, but it is extraordinarily rare that they would attack a person. Most likely, a bear will go after garbage or pet food left outside if they wander into someone’s yard. A backyard is not a favorable area for a bear to settle down, though, Menken said, and they will usually move on.

A problem will only arise if a bear becomes habituated, according to Menken. If a bear finds that if he remains around a population and can continue to get food from household garbage, it may associate people with food. This is bad and may become dangerous. To prevent this, if a bear is sighted in an area, homeowners should not leave their trash outside.

If anyone sees a bear, Menken advises the best thing to do is stay inside and leave it alone. They should also contact the Department of Natural Resources or local game management and let them handle the situation.

“If you see a bear,” Menken said, “give it plenty of space. You do not want to rush outside and get your trash. You should also see what escape paths a bear has. You do not want to corner it – then it might do something it normally wouldn’t. … And it is not acceptable to shoot a bear or anything like that.”

Menken said outdoor pets should also be brought inside if a bear is sighted nearby, especially dogs. A dog may want to chase a bear, which will not only stress the bear out, but it may be dangerous for the dog.

Bears can typically travel 20 or 30 miles in one day, Menken said, so with the bear sighted recently in Coweta County, it is very likely it has already moved on. Bears prefer wooded or swampy areas, and it is just becoming a more common occurrence to see bears in many areas of Georgia because of their expanding populations.



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