There’s b’ars in them thar hills!

Missouri apparently has a healthy and growing black bear population, mostly in the southern half of the state.  In response, the Department of Conservation (MDC) has been conducting a study to “provide information about the movement patterns, population densities, habitat preferences and overall numbers of Missouri bears.”  The home page for the study is located here.  The site is full of good info and you can even follow the movements of several radio-collared bears (17 at the moment) via Google maps animations.  Very cool stuff.

This project is being conducted in cooperation with the University of Missouri-Columbia, Mississippi State University, landowners and various other state and federal agencies.  One of those other agencies is the National Park Service, and ONSR’s terrestrial ecologist Kim Houf has the enviable position of being the park’s participant in the project.  And she has been nice enough to provide a couple of photos for me to post here.

Kim’s role in all of this is maintaining a series of bait stations within the park.  Each station has a game camera present and a “hit” results in a trap, either culvert-style or leg snare, being placed nearby.  Kim has had at least one hit, because this guy (there’s another photo that clearly shows he’s male!) was caught in the act of snatching the donuts.

He may be distracted by the sweets, but so far he’s been sharp enough to stay out of the trap.  Some of the donuts are hanging in the bag because bears aren’t the only critters that like donuts.  Raccoons are quite fond of them too.  But Raccoons are smart and they’ve quickly figured out to climb out the limb where the bag is hanging and pull it (and the donuts) up to their hungry little paws.

Although Kim hasn’t caught a bear yet, she has gotten to go along with another crew that had better luck.  One of those bears was this gorgeous cinnamon gal, who managed to get herself into a trap, somewhere near the Howell-Oregon County line I believe.  Don’t worry, she’s not injured, just sedated.

Weighing in at 280 pounds, she was five years old and has had one litter, probably when she was three years old.  Female bears in Missouri (and maybe elsewhere, I don’t really know) don’t breed until their third year and  I think the cubs stay with their mothers for most of two years, so they only have litters every other year.

I’ve been looking for and hoping to see a bear since I found a track in the snow thirty or so years ago, but other than more tracks and two piles of poop (one literally still steaming,) I’ve struck out.  But seeing these photos and knowing how many this study is turning up, I’m getting more hopeful all the time.  Dayna, on the other hand, is starting to think she may need an armed escort to cross the yard to her car! 🙂

Photos courtesy Kim Houf, National Park Service.

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