Behind the metal grate door of the large barrel trap was 400 pounds of proof that black bears are doing well in Missouri. Returning the inquiring stares of Missouri Department of Conservation biologists with curious looks of its own was a large animal whose appearance indicated the surrounding Webster County countryside was satisfying its creature comforts quite nicely. Its blackish brown fur was smooth and thick. Its frame meaty and robust.
It seems strange to call a creature this large “elusive,” yet that is exactly what black bears (Ursus americanus) have been to Missouri wildlife experts for a number of years. A multiyear study, currently underway, should dispel much of the mystery about this creature and replace hunches with hard facts. This information will be used to better manage one of the state’s largest wild mammal.
Seeking the Bear Facts
For several decades, Missouri’s bears have been something of an enigma for the state biologists trying to study them. Numerous sightings have provided definitive evidence that black bears live in the Show-Me State, but when it came to specific details (how many are here, are they year round residents, etc.), things weren’t as clear.
“I don’t know how many bears we have,” said Jeff Beringer, a resource scientist with the Department of Conservation and the project leader of the bear study. “I know we have reproduction and healthy animals, but there is no way to come up with an intelligent guess—and a guess is all it would be. We need to define bear range in the state and know how many females we have, and then we can start making estimates.”
These are some of the goals of the current research project, which is a joint effort of the Missouri Department of Conservation, the University of Missouri-Columbia and Mississippi State University. It is being funded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration Program with help from Safari Club International Foundation.
Catch and Release
Trapping bears involves either enticing them into large, cylindrical barrel traps with bait, or catching them in baited snares.
Once trapped, the bears are tranquilized and biologists collect weights, measurements and extract a pre-molar tooth. This tooth extraction will provide valuable age and genetic information for biologists without negatively impacting the bear’s ability to chew or digest food. At the conclusion of the data collection process, the bear is transported a short distance away from the