Be Bear Wise in Missouri? Yes!

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 6, 2010

Black Bear

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You’ve probably heard it said before… “A fed bear is a dead bear.” This is a popular axiom among bear biologists and bear enthusiasts. Feeding bears alters their natural instincts and can create dangerous behavior that often leads to their demise. And just like Yogi in the cartoons we grew up with, bears have a hard time distinguishing handouts from foods that are simply “available.”

Bears like the same food that we do. They also like what we feed our pets, livestock, songbirds and squirrels. They are attracted to sweets of any kind, especially fruits and honey, and also enjoy household garbage and grain. Once a bear receives such a “treat” it may return several times even after the food is removed. Some bears become bold when looking for these unnatural food items and may actually cause damage by breaking into containers or buildings.

Pantry Crasher

A couple of summers ago, we were called in to help solve a nuisance bear problem that had suddenly escalated to an unacceptable degree. A southwestern Missouri couple was awakened during the night by strange sounds coming from the kitchen. Something was rustling and banging around, and the wife went to check it out. While making her way to the kitchen in the dark, she tripped over something warm, fuzzy and quite large. The light switch revealed her worst nightmare—a bear lying on the floor!

The bear had simply pushed through the screen door of the house looking for food and helped itself. Because the homeowners had been feeding the bear for some time, they encouraged this highly uncharacteristic behavior. The bear had gotten so accustomed to people, it had just let itself in. It let itself out, too, hurriedly, and through an even larger hole in the screen door.

We learned that the couple had tried to rid themselves of the problem by baiting the bear with dog food that they had placed in the back of a pickup truck. While the bear was busy feeding, the husband tried to drive off with it. Of course, as soon as the truck started moving, the bear jumped out.

The fate of the home-invading bear was sealed. Because of his altered behavior, this bear had to be eliminated.

Unfortunately, this bear had become what biologists refer to as “habituated.” It had lost its natural fear and wariness around people and had begun to associate people with food, becoming seemingly tame. However, bears are

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