Agent Smith and black bear

The Morgan County Sheriff’s Department received a call at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, July 26 reporting a bear sighting on Route T in Gravois Mills. The sheriff’s department contacted Missouri Conservation Department Agent Matt Smith. Upon arrival, Smith found a male black bear, wounded and lying on the ground.

GRAVOIS MILLS, Mo. — Black bears are becoming a more common sight in central Missouri; but the local population decreased by one, when a bear died last weekend after getting tangled in a barbed wire fence.

The Morgan County Sheriff’s Department received a call at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, July 26 reporting a bear sighting on Route T in Gravois Mills. The sheriff’s department contacted Missouri Conservation Department Agent Matt Smith. Upon arrival, Smith found a male black bear, wounded and lying on the ground. The bear had been tangled in a five-strand barbwire fence, but according to Smith, by the time he arrived, the bear had been freed from the fence by concerned people in the area.

“They were trying help the bear,” Smith said. “But their close proximity alarmed him. The bear was exhausted, panting hard, and struggling to survive.”

Smith phoned Camden County MDC Biologist Jim Braithwait. Braithwait advised moving the people away from the bear to give him a chance to calm down, and hopefully recover.

“Bears are very resilient,” Smith noted.

He cleared the crowd and stayed with the bear until 9:30 p.m. The bear did calm down and his breathing became steady. However, when Smith went back to check on the bear around midnight, he found the animal had perished.  

Smith has served as an MDC agent in Morgan County for 10 years, and this was the first time he had contact with a bear.

“I feel fortunate to have had this contact; sadly it ended up not being a good one,” he said.  

Arkansas has been restocking its bear population, and bears are also moving north, out of southern Missouri.

“This being a young male, they get kicked out of the family to establish their own territory, especially during mating season, and this is black bear mating season,” Smith explained.   

He says the department received three reports accompanied by photos on Saturday, July 19 of a bear on in the Wild Wood Estates Subdivision on Highway MM in Versailles and also on Route T in Gravois Mills.

“We fully expect to see more bears in the Lake area,” Agent Smith said. “It’s neat to have bears in our area, but it is going to be a struggle to find a balance between man and nature.”

MDC plans to educate the public on what individuals can do to keep the bears out of their personal space and vice versa.   

The deceased bear was sent to MDC Bear Biologist Jeff Beringer in Columbia for a necropsy. No information on his findings has been released.

MDC gives the following advice on how to fully enjoy camping or an outdoor experience in bear country (which could be any county in Missouri). The department says to follow the “Ten Commandments of Camping”:

  1. Keep a clean camp. Food and all items that come in contact with food carry odors that bears find attractive.
  2. Thoroughly clean all utensils immediately after use. Never deposit food residues such as cooking grease in campfires.
  3. Place garbage where bears cannot smell or gain access to it, either in bear-proof containers or dumpsters. Don’t burn or bury garbage. Bears will dig it up.
  4. Do not eat or cook in your tent. Avoid storing food or attractants in tents, sleeping bags or backpacks. Suspend such items from trees when backpacking.
  5. Treat nonfood items such as gum, soap, toothpaste or deodorant as food. They are attractive to a bear's acute sense of smell.
  6. Immediately store food articles (including pet food, livestock feed and garbage) in airtight containers after every use. Coolers are not airtight, and bears often associate them with food. Secure coolers in a locked trunk or truck cab concealed from view.
  7. Plan your meals. Generate as little food garbage as possible.
  8. Never attempt to feed a bear or any other wild animal.
  9. Never approach wildlife, especially black bears. They are dangerous.
  10. Keep your dog on a leash and clean up leftover food and scraps after your dog has finished eating.

The above list and other tips about navigating bear country can be found at MDC’s website.

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